Mental health is a topic that is not frequently talked about in the African American community. Oftentimes, this may be due to a lack of education or awareness of the signs and symptoms associated with the illness, as well as concern or fear of society’s views and opinions. One of society’s views, in particular, may suggest that having a mental illness means you’re crazy or weak. But the truth is, our brains control every functionality of our bodies and, sometimes, just like we can catch a cold, brains, too, can get sick.
The reality is, mental health illness has been a part of the African American community since before the days of slavery. And even now as we fight within our communities and create hash tags such as “black lives matter”, or “stay woke”, it is even more important that we realize the hash tag “black mental health matters” is essential to the overall wellbeing of our communities. Surely, the need to address mental health awareness in the African American Community is becoming more profound than ever before. In the 20th century, we know our communities are no longer “slaves” to our European counterparts but are now slaves to our own mental illness. According to the American Psychological Association, African Americans are 20% more likely to report severe mental distress or psychological issues than non-Hispanic whites.
Many are aware of the negative stereotypes associated with having a mental illness. But, consider the positive outcomes that may develop from education about mental health, as well as healing the mind to inspire hope and long-term happiness. In overcoming any obstacle, the first and often most difficult step in this journey is admitting that there is a struggle or concern. Once such discovery is achieved, the second step is to find a psychologist, therapist or counselor.
So what is the role of a therapist?
The black community has a misconception about the role of the therapist. Such faulty thinking may cause one to avoid getting essential help on issues that cannot be resolved by simply praying about them or talking to girlfriends or homeboys about the situation. The role of the therapist is to provide the following: To offer suggestions to clients, or to advise them on what they should and should not be doing. Not only will therapists listen to your thoughts, they will be happy to advocate on your behalf. They are there to provide expert opinions and also guidance as to which direction would be best suited for you. Therapists are also there to moderate your needs, help you to set priorities and allow you to learn internal things about yourself that you may have been suppressing for years. But one of the biggest purposes of the therapist is to have your back. Therapists are there to support you unconditionally and aid you in understanding new emotions, prioritizing your needs and creating alternative solutions to your current struggles, all while maintaining confidentiality. In other words, they don’t snitch!
Just as we turn to our pastors for spiritual guidance and our teachers for educational guidance, we must also learn to turn to psychologists and therapists for emotional and mental guidance. There’s no shame in being strong enough to admit that you need help. Your ability to overcome obstacles with the aid of a professional only shows your courage and your perseverance. Black mental health does matter; the question to ask is, do you matter?