Mental Health and People of Color…

Posted by on Jun 24, 2021 in Depression Counseling

Mental Health and People of Color…

The stigma of Mental Illness continues to be very prominent in many African Americans and other minority communities around the country. In 1949 the Mental Health America (MHA) organization, created Mental Health Awareness month and although the month of May is designated for this awareness, there really isn’t a month in the year that one shouldn’t be fully aware of their mental health. Mental health awareness month began to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness in the lives of Americans and to celebrate recovery from mental illness. It also serves as a reminder that mental health is essential and those living with mental health issues are deserving of understanding, compassion and respect.

When taking care of our physical health, we normally would get an annual checkup, where a complete blood workup is routine.  Blood pressure, and usually one’s biometrics numbers, among other data are also usually collected.  One does not necessarily have to be showing physical symptoms in order to undergo a physical examination. It’s part of a routine procedure for preventive measures, which is essential to one’s physical health and well being. At other times one may seek help when one either sees or feels something unusual taking place in one’s body. Taking preventive measures is very important, because catching something before its too late is key.

Depression and Anxiety are the two most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in the US.  Anxiety Disorders is #1 with approx. 18.% or 40 million adults 18 and above. While Depression the #2 diagnosis in the US, with approx. 6.7% or 16.1 million adults 18 and above.  Sometimes these terms are used liberally, for example during the pandemic, a huge portion of the population reported feeling anxious, as the world was so unpredictable and ever-changing. As well as if one were to receive sad news, it would be appropriate to use the word feeling depressed.

Some common Mental Health Symptoms of Depression, include, but is not limited too:
Isolation
Sad mood, feeling down
Extreme mood changes highs and lows
low energy, feeling tired
problems sleeping (too much or too little)
Crying
Suicidal thoughts
Lack of concentration
Little interest in things that once brought you pleasure

Some common Symptoms of Anxiety, include but is not limited too:
Excessive fears and worrying
Feeling nervous or on edge
Irritable/ and restless
problems concentrating or focusing
Trouble relaxing

Mental illness has always had a level of stigma connected to it. However, among the African American community this stigma is dominant when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Many of these communities are underserved when it comes to mental health, but also the strong stigmas prevents many from seeking help.

Stigmas That May Plague Minority Communities:

People who are mentally ill are dangerous.
People can just “snap out” of Depression or its not real.
People don’t recover from mental illness.
Addiction is not a disease, but a choice.
Therapy is a waste of time, they just take your money.

Some False Beliefs of Mental Health Stigmas:

Mental health disorders are personal controllable and if the individual cannot get better then they are treated as less than.
Those with mental disorders are frightening, unpredictable and strange.
Those with mental illness are unequal or inferior.
The false judgement of individuals with mental illness leads to discrimination, avoidance

Just as certain diseases are passed on through a familial gene pool, or like the common saying “it runs in the family”. Its the same situation with some mental disorders. For example depression, if there is a family history of Major Depressive Disorder in one’s family history odds are it can be passed on. There is an ongoing debate on whether some mental illnesses are genetically transferred or a learned behavior. Nature vs. Nurture.

High Suicide Rates Among People of Color

The research states the suicide is the second leading cause of death for Individuals between 10-19yrs old. Men die by suicide at a rate of 3.53% more often than women. There is an average of 132 suicides per day in the US and is continuing to rise yearly. However, among African American men and boys suicide is the third leading cause of death in the US, between the ages of 15-24yrs old. The rate has doubled since 1980. Black people are approximately 13.1% in population in the US, and they compose about half the overall percentage of all suicides in the US. at 7.2%. the US rate is 14.2%. This rate is continuing to rise, especially among teens This rates tends to peak during adolescents and young adulthood then it declines

Risk Factors: for increase suicide rates among people of color

Defining what’s considered “Strong”.
Self care seems demasculinizing, not taking care of themselves.
Avoid showing emotions, being tough. Emotions equals weakness.
Being called gay, levels of homophobic attitudes still relevant in many Black communities.
Don’t believe in therapy: many believe that therapy is not a real type of resolution for issues and problems.
Avoidance and denial: many still believe that if its not talked about, then it will somehow just “go away”.

Some other factors that may help to put many People of Color at risk, includes but is not limited too:
Undiagnosed Psychological disorders
Substance abuse
Exposure to violence
Family dysfunction
Maladaptive coping skills
Access to weapons such as guns
Homelessness/ economic status/ can’t afford help
History of suicide attempts

These factors are not only prevalent in underserved communities, but also among people of color who hold long generational misconceptions regarding metal illness and forgoing treatment for even basic mental health problems. The long standing belief that “we do not talk to strangers, about our problems” keeps many from seeking therapy and more advanced psychiatry care, for common issues and problems. With many of these stigmas and myths in place, this population although slowly seeking treatment, still has a very long way to go. While suicide rates remains prevalent among Black males in this country, this issue will not go away on it’s own. Education, and more acceptance is still the best bet for changing the trajectory of this group. These stigmas and myths has to be eradicated. However, it’s not going to be easy. If Black lives really matter, then this is a great place to start.