For centuries Black Americans, like their white counterparts, have struggled with mental health problems. Things are getting better, but we’ve still got work before us.
It’s OK to be depressed. No matter who you are, it’s fine, and certainly not embarrassing, to suffer from mental health woes. It makes particular sense, however, for African-Americans, who, by virtue of the fact that they face deeply embedded racism every day of their lives, have a lot about which to be depressed. Nevertheless, though they struggle with a lot, studies say Blacks don’t face depression at higher rates than whites. What they do more often is suffer in silence.
For many reasons, mental-health issues remain a taboo in Black communities, some of which revere qualities like strength and self-reliance. Depression as a medical issue, which can find people seeking out the help of doctors and therapists, often doesn’t align with the norms of a poor, urban existence, though it certainly exists as much as it exists anywhere else.
Though many African-Americans continue to ignore their pain, one good thing is that medical professionals are becoming more aware of the stigmas with which their Black patients suffer through. In an article on PsychCentral, Therese Borchard writes, “When I participated in a six-week outpatient program at [Maryland’s] Laurel Hospital, half the group was African-American. The stories horrified me. Most of the African-Americans could not reveal to any member in their family what they were doing (the outpatient program) because the stigma was so deep and tall and wide.”
Keep in mind that Borchard is a white woman. That she is becoming keenly aware of what mental health means in the African-American community may not be ideal—it’s taken this long?—but it’s a sign that things are moving forward.
One last thing worth noting time and again is that doctors can’t read minds. Though people like Borchard are helpful and kind, they’re not clairvoyant, and they can’t help you if you don’t seek treatment or speak to them honestly about how you’re feeling. It’s not shameful to be depressed or anxious or angry. If anything, it will be more embarrassing when you act irrationally because of those unchecked emotions and end up in prison, alienated from your friends, or worse. If you need help, always speak up.
(Photo: CARL JUSTE/MCT /Landov)