The Black Mental Health Stigma: 4 Steps To Stop It
Imagine waking up in a panic, sweat dripping from your face. You are unsure of where you are or who you are. All of a sudden, you hear a voice calling your name even though you’re home alone. This has never happened before. What would you do? Most would keep it to themselves.
According to Sa’uda Dunlap, Assistant Director of Social Work at Kings County Hospital Center, the stigma of mental health in the African- American community is a major deterrent for seeking treatment.
“I’ve been treating people for 6+ years and it is at the top of the list when I explore concerns consumers and families have about treatment. Many African Americans fear that they will be labeled ‘crazy’ or will be ‘locked up.’ As a clinician, I use my initial contacts with consumers and families to address fears of being involuntarily hospitalized by explaining the difference between typical mental health challenges and “being crazy,’ including the role of insight and self-efficacy.”
Family can be a great support system but they can also be judgmental and the reason for the stigma. This largely occurs in the African-American community. With roots grounded in religion, many view it as something that should not be discussed.
A recent podcast on Huffington Post’s website asserts that over 66% of Protestants have never heard a sermon about mental health. The lack of education in the church community and in the African-American community is a key issue for the stigma in mental health.
Open communication about mental health is imperative in eradicating the stigma that prevents many African Americans from receiving treatment.
Unfortunately, Dunlap does not think elimination is possible.
“To some degree, stigma will remain–so I’m very hesitant to say that it can be eliminated…continued education about mental illness is important and can help to reduce stigma. One must be aware of the misinformation and stereotypes that are out there with regards to mental illness. I suggest that when a consumer is faced with stereotypes/ misinformation or find themselves thinking about them, they should try to remind themselves that they are not true.”
What can we do to be better advocates/stewards of mental health for ourselves and within community? The tips below provide a start.
1. If you see something, say something. It is not helpful to engage the complicity of silence around mental health issues and concerns, including substance abuse. This silence only furthers stigma and slows the process to accessing needed services.
2. Help/get help navigating insurance and other complicated policy. In the midst of mental health crisis, one’s cognitive and emotional capacities are overextended. Assistance reading and making meaning of the small print can be a great help.