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Mental wellness for Black Americans must be a priority

African American individuals face trauma stressors that have an impact on their mental health while also experiencing disparities within the healthcare system.

Benchmarks September 2

As a society, it's important to have conversations surrounding the contributions of African Americans throughout our country, as well as the inequities for African American and Black individuals.

One of the historically discriminatory institutions is the healthcare system, which has led to generations of distrust among the African American and Black community. Black individuals may receive different care than their white neighbors, struggle to find culturally competent providers, or have difficulty paying for services – due to being underinsured or not insured at all.

The disparities in healthcare have extended to behavioral health spaces. According to the American Psychiatric Association, African Americans are less likely to be offered either evidence-based medication therapy or psychotherapy. In addition, compared with white individuals with the same symptoms, African Americans are more frequently misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and less frequently diagnosed with mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. These misdiagnoses could stem from the differences in how African Americans may express symptoms of emotional distress.

The uncertainty over the level of care they might receive can keep Black individuals from seeking services in any healthcare setting. In a time where mental health is a major concern for all Americans, especially that of marginalized groups, that can be life-threatening.

In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15-24. We’ve also learned that Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers.

What is causing this mental health crisis among the African American community? According to Mental Health America, Black individuals are experiencing direct traumatic stressors, indirect stressors and transmitted stressors – all at the same time.

Direct trauma stressors are the traumatic events experienced first-hand, which are directly correlated to being Black/African American. This would include being heavily policed, being a victim of racist attacks, being called slurs or being discriminated against. Indirect stressors would be witnessing trauma stressors brought onto someone whose identity is similar to your own. This could include viewing the videos of the killings of George Floyd, Eric Garner or Philando Castile. Transmitted stressors are also known as generational trauma. We’d like to believe tragic, historic events were so long ago, when in reality, many individuals who struggled with the oppression under Jim Crow laws and segregation are still alive today. Institutionalized racism doesn’t disappear overnight, and neither do its effects.

Traumatic stressors like these can be directly linked to mental illness and behavioral health challenges. Black and African American individuals daily experience racism, discrimination, mistreatment, and bigotry. However, mental health services may not be accessible to them. Only one in three African Americans who need mental health care actually receives it, according to the American Psychiatric Association. This could be because of the distrust of healthcare, the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health, or the fact that mental health resources might not be available in the areas Black individuals live.

Burrell Behavioral Health is dedicated to welcoming, serving and celebrating all people, all year long. We work to educate and raise awareness about mental health so more members of our communities are comfortable asking for help when they need it. When they do get connected with resources, it is imperative that there are available providers who are culturally competent and trauma-informed. We are committed to meeting the need for individualized, compassionate care from experts who can relate to, understand and offer support for someone’s struggles. That’s why Burrell is focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion within its organization, offering trainings and professional development to staff regarding social justice issues and the perspective of marginalized groups.

Our hope is to rebuild trust in the behavioral healthcare space that has been understandably lost throughout our history. We are dedicated to changing the landscape of mental health services for all people, all year long.


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