According to research from Columbia University, Black adults are 20% more likely to experiences serious mental health problems, such as major depressive orders and generalized anxiety disorders. And, researchers say young Black adults experience higher rates of mental health problems while using mental health services than their white counterparts.
The disparity highlights the stigmatization of mental health issues in communities of color that has deterred Black men and women from seeking treatment, according to experts.
“Being a person of color and admitting that you need something is very difficult,” said Lesha Groves, a licensed therapist and the associate director of operations at the Mental Health Center of Denver.
Groves knows the struggle of the Black community first-hand.
She says there were not any noticeable signs that she was struggling.
“People are suffering and it’s a hidden illness,” she said.
According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), despite the needs, only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. The APA says access to health care has been a major hindrance, but experts point to a historical context that deters Black men and women from seeking care.
“Just to get onto a level playing field [with people of other races], you’ve got to be two to three steps better than, so you can’t be vulnerable,” said Dan Gillison, CEO of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “You can’t show any, what would be considered in the [Black] community, weakness.”
Gillison, a Black man himself, recounted the story of a close friend of his who took her own life in recent years. He says it is one of the reasons he works in the mental health field.
Gillison says Black men and women have a difficult time showing vulnerability, and even getting to the point of admitting an issue, because of slavery and inequities that still harm communities of color. He says the idea of needing to be perfect to be accepted encourages Black men and women to look past issues to save face.
Research also shows that there are also socioeconomic factors that affect access to health care and exposure to contributing mental health factors, such as homelessness and crime.
Gillison says, however, that the pandemic has started to open up conversations about mental health that have not previously circulated in communities of color.
“You’re starting to see more people say, 'I live with, I exist with, I accomplished with this,' and it’s starting to resonate in communities of color,” Gillison said.