February in America is known as Black History Month, where America pays homage to Black culture. Not only is it a month to celebrate past generations of heroic achievements and sacrifice, it is a month to shed light on issues that concern the Black community.
Suicide rates among Black youth are rising. In fact, national data revealed that in 2016 and 2018, Black youth ages 5 to 11 had the highest rate of death by suicide (Dillard, 2019). Compared to previous years, this is about twice as high as that of their White peers. According to the U.S. Department of Minority Health, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15 to 24 in 2017. The same report noted that African American females, grades 9-12, were 70% more likely to attempt suicide in 2017 compared to non-Hispanic White females of the same age. Many may ask why the rates are increasing for Black youth? Explanations for this disturbing trend include:
- Health care disparities. Black children are about half as likely as White children to get mental health treatment (Dillard, 2019). Among various healthcare treatment areas, mental health is one of many areas that shows a racial difference. Historically, oppression has largely influenced how many within the Black community rely on the healthcare system. Cultural mistrust causes individuals within the Black community to not seek appropriate treatment out of fear of misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment, and lack of cultural understanding. In addition, access to mental healthcare continues to be limited for many within the Black community due to racial discrepancies in socio-economic class and incarceration rates.
- Experiences with racism. Within the Black community, issues of mental health are often intermingled with racism. When a Black person is expected to navigate social determinants such as racism, one can become increasingly overwhelmed with exacerbated feelings of anxiety, depression, and traumatic stress. Issues of racism compound the stress of those within the Black community. As a result, research notes that Black adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than White adults (American Psychological Association). However, due to the reasons noted throughout this article, 33% will not receive the necessary treatment (American Psychological Association).
- Cultural stigma about mental health. Mental health stigma is associated with all racial and ethnic groups. Within the Black community, seeking help is often seen as a sign of “weakness,” suggesting that one may have failed at upholding the “survivor” mentality passed down by those who have survived harsh racial conditions. In addition, religion and faith tend to be a great source of support. Many within the Black community rely on faith and spiritual principles as the only mechanism for treatment. Lastly, some individuals within the Black community are reluctant to seek out help from a mental health professional out of fear of a penalizing intervention that may result in interaction with social service agencies, such as Department of Child Services.
- Dearth of culturally competent mental health practitioners. Cultural competency has become a core requirement for mental health professionals, in which graduate training programs are preparing practitioners to deliver culturally competent mental health services. However, cultural biases and lack of cultural understanding and sensitivity result in poorer quality of treatment for many racial and ethnic minorities. Not only is it important to identify treatment methods for Black youth; it is equally important to address one’s biases that could potentially impede the treatment process. In addition, only 4% of psychologists in the U.S. workforce were Black/African American in 2015, compared to 86% of psychologist that were White (Lin, Stamm, & Christidis, 2018). The American Psychological Association suggests that training more African American psychologists would help decrease stigma, increase awareness, and provide culturally competent services that are tailored to individual needs (American Psychological Association).
Instead of seeking professional help for conditions such as depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, grief, loss, and anger, many in the Black community resort to isolation, substance use/abuse, and an “over-worker’s mentality.” These interventions are maladaptive, meaning that they do not provide adequate adjustment to the problem. Instead, such interventions worsen the problem, leaving the individual in greater distress. With the rise of suicide in the Black community, it is imperative that Black youth participate in mental health treatment when issues arise.
When identifying whether you should seek help from a mental health professional, it is important to consider the following:
- Behavioral changes – Drastic behavioral change in your child’s behavior at home and at school that may appear out of control, dangerous, aggressive, and/or odd.
- Changes in mood – This may include sadness, increased irritability, withdrawal, lack of motivation, mood swings, and/or intense feelings of worry and fear.
- Physical symptoms – Symptoms of some mental health conditions tend to manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches. This is often seen in children, especially those from various ethnic minority groups.
- Change in functioning – When issues of mental health arise, changes within academic and social functioning are often seen. This may include decrease in school performance and/or changes in interactions with friends and family.
- Changes in sleep and eating patterns – Too much or too little eating and sleeping are often markers that something may be troubling your child.
- Physical harm – Sometimes mental health conditions can lead to self-injury, which includes cutting, skin picking, burning, etc. This can be an indicator that your child is in intolerable distress and needs immediate help.
- Suicidal Ideation – Some mental health conditions can lead to thoughts of suicide, which can manifest passively by making statements of not wanting to wake up to having active thoughts of committing the act in which the individual may compose a plan. If your child has expressed such thoughts, this is an indicator that you should seek immediate help by a mental health professional.
If you are concerned about your child’s mental/emotional health, consult with your child’s doctor or school about resources available in your community. Also, look within your insurance network for providers covered by your plan. Mostly importantly, talk to those within your social network for support and guidance on taking the next steps to getting help.
American Psychological Association (n.d.). African Americans have limited access to mental and behavioral health care. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/advocacy/civil-rights/diversity/african-american-health
Baoku, H. (2018). Hafeez Baoku: Challenging mental health stigma In the black community. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/July-2018/Challenging-Mental-Health-Stigma-in-the-Black-Comm
Breland-Noble, A. (2004, July). Mental healthcare disparities affect treatment of black adolescents. Psychiatr Ann. 34(7), 534-538.
Dillard, C. (2019, Fall). Black minds matter: Interrupting school practices that disregard the mental health of black youth. Teaching Tolerance, 44-48.
Lin, L., Stamm, K., & Christidis, P. (2018, February). How diverse is psychology workforce? Monitor on Psychology, 49(2), 19.
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (2019). Mental Behavioral Health-African Americans. Retrieved from https://minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24
White, R. (2019). Why Mental Health Care is Stigmatized in Black Communities. Retrieved from https://dworakpeck.usc.edu/news/why-mental-health-care-stigmatized-black-communities