Mental Health Awareness Month: To Medicate or Not? Mental Health Experts Sound Off

The reluctance to take psychiatric meds isn’t unfounded, but is the resistance hurting us?

It’s still  Mental Health Awareness Month, and as part of’s ongoing look at mental health in the Black community, another issue worth exploring is the decision of whether or not to take medications. 

Historically speaking, Black Americans are less likely to seek help for mental health conditions––particularly anxiety and depression, even if those specific issues are more likely to hit us harder and last longer than other groups. That’s starting to change some as stigmas decrease and as both social media and culture at large have made conversations about wellness and mental health everyday talking points. Yet even as awareness increases and Black people start seeking counseling and therapy, there’s still a reluctance to take psychiatric medications, studies and professionals say. 

“There's this balancing act,” says Dr. Thema Bryant, a psychiatrist well-known on social media for her inspirational and common sense posts that dispense advice rooted in actual training but also Black cultural awareness. “There were experiences of us being either over-diagnosed or over-prescribed, so, families are super protective. You hear, ‘I don't want my child in that special class,’ or ‘I don't want my child on medication.’” 

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Hesitation isn’t entirely unfounded, nor does it necessarily come from a lack of education. Black Americans have legitimate fears about engaging with the medical system after generations of neglect, mistreatment, abuse, and outright terror. From the lingering scars of the Tuskegee experiments to the horrors of the Henrietta Lacks story to the well-documented negligence Black women experience when seeking care that persists to this day, nobody can say Black people’s trepidation about taking meds is unreasonable. “We just don’t want to give every Black boy some disorder,” Bryant says, is a common sentiment among parents, thinking that, of course, extends to grown-ups as well. 

Yet Black mental health professionals are increasingly asking clients to at least be willing to consider treatment that involves medication––a decision they know isn’t one to take lightly but shouldn’t necessarily be rejected outright. “When it comes to medication, there's a lot of African American therapists who are showing up, and when that conversation comes up, I think they feel more safe,” says Venice Moore, who runs a practice with her husband, Vernon, in Connecticut. “It’s [Black] clinicians or psychiatrists who allow them to have the understanding that, ‘This could help me.’” 

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One way barriers are starting to ease is by talking about the dosage. Clients might ease into medications for a condition like, say, ADHD, with a small dose to see how they respond–-allowing the patient to feel more in control and like they aren’t making a lifelong commitment, just trying something to see how it works. “It doesn't mean that something's wrong with you. It's just something that is added that could support you. Similar to if you have a cold, you take something. It's just some imbalances in the brain that just need to be supported and treated. Some of my clients who have taken medication for ADHD or depression start seeing changes and say, ‘Why was I resistant to this?’” 

The other irony in the resistance is the flip side of the hesitation itself. Black folks can sometimes view therapy and medication as things “white people do”––not necessarily connecting the dots that those tools are, in a broadly general sense, part of what gives them an edge to thrive economically and professionally. 

“People strive when they are focused,” she says, “So, think about the Caucasian CEOs who have been on [ADHD medication] all their lives and striving while [we] are having some work difficulties, and could have gone further. That’s not to say you should abuse it, but pay attention and consider it. Medication is not just for ‘them.’”

Need some help? Here are a few resources to get support. 

Black Therapists Rock 

Therapy for Black Men 

Therapy for Black Girls 

Therapy in Color 

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