Q&A: Why Are Blacks Treated Less For Mental Illness?

Q: I read somewhere that blacks tend to be treated less for mental problems. Is this true?

A: Unfortunately, it is, partially due to a very strong, very pervasive stigma in the community about mental illness. One of the reasons why I believe this stigma exists is a general lack of knowledge about mental illness and the impact that mental illness often has on physical well-being. For example, depression has been associated with suppressed immune system functioning due to chronic inflammation as a result of stress. In fact, many providers view some mental illnesses as medical illness because of the impact on the body. 

Another reason that African-Americans may be wary of mental illness awareness and treatment is related to past treatment from the medical community, such as the Tuskeegee experiment. Unfortunately, history has shown that the medical community has not always had the best interests of African Americans and other minority groups in mind. As a result, persons within minority communities may be less likely to receive help from medical providers, especially when it comes to mental health.

Although events from the past cannot be undone, it is important to establish positive, open communication with a trusted provider so that symptoms can be caught early and treated. It is also important to remember that mental illness is not a flaw in one’s character and a person is not weak if they seek treatment. In fact, it oftentimes is an act of courage to seek help.