Breaking Down the Mental Health Stigma
Over 50 years have passed since the civil rights movement, but we still have much to do to reduce discrimination and improve health equity. At Diversus Health, we are dedicated to eliminating barriers in order to improve the mental and behavioral health in our community, while providing quality care and restoring hope for all.
The significance of Black History Month allows us to look back and understand how far we have come in drawing the strength and wisdom necessary to continue to move forward, while observing the areas that require continued improvement and growth. For this year’s Black History Month celebration, we want to address the stigma surrounding mental health in the Black and African American community.
Understanding the Stigma Around Mental Health Care
One in four Americans is affected by mental illness today. Individuals experience mental illness differently, across various cultures. This is why there is a great need for improved cultural awareness and competence in healthcare and the mental health workforce.
The likelihood of one developing a mental illness often stems from indicative social circumstances. Black and African Americans are disproportionately more likely to experience these social circumstances, especially since these individuals are more often at a socioeconomic disadvantage when it comes to accessing medical and mental health care. This dilemma, in large part, is due to prior experience with historical mistreatment, abuse, and misdiagnoses from medical providers, inadequate treatment for medical diagnoses, lack of cultural understanding from health care providers, and cultural biases against health care and mental health professionals.
Bradley Mallett, LPC and Clinical Programs Supervisor at Diversus Health, explains the historic mistreatment of Black and African Americans by medical professionals in further detail, adding, “One of the large reasons why Black and African Americans mistrust medical doctors in the profession is because these individuals were lied to, manipulated, and abused for decades. For example, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study lied to Black and African Americans, saying they were getting free healthcare treatment, when in reality they were not being given any treatment for syphilis to see what would happen to them when left untreated.”
Due to the history of mistrust towards the medical industry, mental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the Black and African American community. Black individuals and African Americans tend to lean on family, religious, and social communities for emotional support rather than turn to health care professionals. While there is slow and steady work being done to combat these misunderstandings and the stigmatization of mental illness throughout the Black and African American community, sensitivity to cultural differences in the health care workforce can improve experiences with treatment, while enhancing trust in utilizing specialty mental health care services. It is important to educate communities to engage in self-care in order to build communities of recovery.
An old proverb says, “It takes a village.” Everybody hurts. Everybody suffers. We all benefit when we design a culture of health care that operates with empathy, compassion, and systemic transformation. We have a responsibility to advocate for the inclusion of comprehensive research, prevention, early intervention, and training for healthcare professionals that focus on eliminating cultural bias and reducing the mental health stigma for Black and African Americans. We have the choice to be a leader for change, which we can start by encouraging open, honest discussions about mental health and sharing our struggles and experiences to help further the dialogue.
There are many strategies to increase self-care and wellness, including cooking, praying, attending religious activities, singing, dancing, and exercising. At Diversus Health, we are dedicated to supporting the Black and African American community, as well as enriching our knowledge of Black history, as it aligns with our vision to eliminate barriers in order to improve mental and behavioral health, while providing quality care and restoring hope in our community.
Read our blog Celebrating Black Pioneers Who Have Contributed to the Mental Health Field to learn more.
If you or a loved one is suffering with a mental illness, contact us to schedule an appointment. We will connect you to one of our licensed providers to get you the care you need. If you need to talk to someone immediately, text ‘TALK’ to 38255 to reach our crisis hotline.