The definition of stress is a physical, mental and emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. If there is one thing that recent police brutality protests and the coronavirus pandemic have demonstrated, it is that life for black people in America is extremely stressful. Stress is a normal aspect of life, but many black people have had more than their share.
And while it might seem logical to assume that all that stress would translate into higher rates of mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, that doesn’t seem to be the case — at least not when actual diagnoses are tallied.
But official numbers don’t capture the whole story, as a multitude of factors stand in the way of good mental health care for black Americans.
“There’s an assumption that all people express symptoms of depression the same, but some culture groups express symptoms differently,” explained Sherry Davis Molock, an associate professor of psychology at George Washington University, in Washington D.C.
She said that while depression is typically defined as someone who has lost interest in activities they used to enjoy and a persistent sad mood for at least two weeks, in black and Asian people depression is more likely to present with physical symptoms like headache or digestive issues. Those differences could translate to fewer people getting diagnosed in the earlier stages of mental illness: Molock noted that black people are more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental health conditions.
Another issue that can stand in the way of people of color getting mental health care is the stigma of mental illness.