2019 has been amazing for growth. I saw a ton of black people actively eliminating generational curses, dealing with their own internalized antiblackness, making self-care a priority, getting back in touch with their spiritual roots and seeking help for mental health-related issues. We are clearly starting to put ourselves first and it shows. But while great strides are being made, there is still a massive stigma around mental health.
Now, I know I just said that I saw us getting in touch with our spiritual roots (and by that, I mean African roots by way of witchcraft, hoodoo and the like) and that’s true, but let’s be honest- we all know that black people are hella Christian. And if you needed proof, compared to all other races, black folks are the most religious group here in America with 79% of us identifying as such and the overwhelming majority of those being Christian.
Does that include me? Well, no. I’m an atheist, but I still had the typical black childhood filled with church, Sunday school, Easter service, etc.
Try to remember back to a Saturday night before church where your aunty/mom/grandma was pressing your hair and giving you that curled under bang that she promises will go down before the morning. Imagine smelling the beginnings of what would come to be tomorrow’s Sunday dinner after church. Picture getting your outfit ready and after trying to decide how to say it, you finally confess that you’ve been feeling depressed. Your “insert family member here” looks at you- face scrunched up and says “DEPRESSED? What do you have to be depressed about? You ain’t depressed. You just need to pray.”
Or maybe you were in college and called home to tell your parents that you’ve been having anxiety and were thinking about seeing a therapist. Did they say something like “No child of mine is going to see a therapist! All you need to do is pray. If you’re having so-called anxiety maybe it’s because God knows you ain’t living right.”
Studies show that while faith was considered a major factor in the positive well being of black people, it was also a significant factor in contributing to negative coping methods.
The stigma about mental health in a lot of black homes is real. Being told to “pray it away,” “that maybe if you were closer to god it’d get better” is a thing. And in a community where belief in God has often been the beacon of hope to sustain them through slavery and Jim Crow, where the church assisted heavily in civil rights and where a lot of folks believe that “my God can do anything,” I get it. But the reality of the matter is that black folks are 20% more likely than others to suffer from mental health-related issues due to extreme societal stressors and with our aversion to seeking out mental health care, it’s only getting worse.
But I don’t want to make this sound one-sided… There are other determining factors in our avoidance, like how expensive health care is in this country and how inaccessible it can be for us. For reference, black people have the second to lowest percentage of actually receiving care for our mental health-related issues. And while studies surrounding mental health are abundant, studies around black mental health, cultural differences and approaches are very few.
Then there’s the fact that we are severely underrepresented in mental health services, with only 3.7% of members belonging to the American Psychiatric Association being black and having just 6.2% of psychologists in this country who are minorities (this includes ALL minority groups)- resulting in there being a huge cultural divide and heavy cultural insensitivity to contend with. I myself realized rather quickly, after going through a dozen or so therapists who I couldn’t connect with, that I needed someone who was a part of my community.
Not to mention our long, sordid and contentious history with being abused, dismissed and having our medical care mishandled. Still today, implicit medical bias is a major obstacle that is finally being recognized and studied in hopes to counteract the refusal to believe black people who say they are in pain and alarming statistics like black women being 243% more likely to die in childbirth.
So yeah, there’s a multitude of reasons why mental health is often neglected in the black community but before we can contend with most of these, we first have to be willing to get help. We have to leave behind the stigma, stop being dismissive and accept the staggering suicide, depression, PTSD and anxiety levels that show praying it away… just doesn’t work.
Like I said earlier, I’m an atheist, so take this how you will, but I’ve heard many a preacher say “prayer without action is no good “ and “faith without work is dead.”
Here’s to us growing, healing and glowing all 2020 and beyond. ✨✨