The trauma of 2020 in which Black Americans saw continual images of police violence including the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and the protests and conflicts that followed, rates of stress, depression and anxiety rose in many communities and for individuals as well. As a direct result, Black Americans now are seeking mental health therapy at increased rates, experts observe.
According to The New York Times, despite past skepticism and hesitancy to seek therapy for mental health problems, Black people are changing long held attitudes about getting treatment.
“We’ve seen everything that the nation has seen from afar, from folks in civil unrest and devastation, despair,” Jamil Stamschror-Lott, who co-founded Creative Kuponya, an art-based therapy facility in Minneapolis with his wife Sara, told the Times. He said the events of the past year have left a “great deal of pain and trauma.”
Mistrust of therapeutic treatment among African Americans, according to researchers, is rooted in historical mistreatment of the population by the medical establishment. The group is also more likely to be misdiagnosed than others and health care services in many Black communities have been of lower quality.
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But now, there seems to be a change in how Black people view seeking mental health treatment.
“I think people are starting to see therapy for exactly what it’s always been, which is more of an insight, building, more of an opportunity to see things in a different perspective, reframing,” Dr. Douglas E. Lewis Jr., a clinical and forensic psychiatrist in Decatur, Ga., told the Times. “It’s something that everyone could benefit from, not just people who may be diagnosed with a severe persistent mental illness.”
He added that many African Americans are going through what he called a “shared trauma” after seeing consistent media coverage of Blacks experiencing death and injury at the hands of law enforcement, which gives way to more anxiety and mental stress.
“We’re being inundated with these things repeatedly,” Lewis said, “and what I think increases and compounds these issues is that Black Americans in the United States already experience difficulties that seem to be linked to race already in their daily lives.”
Safe spaces for African Americans to discuss what they are dealing with are also beginning to open up. Str8 Mental, a monthly virtual group targeted at Black men to help them deal with their issues and is led by Black therapists is one of them.
“Oftentimes as Black men, because we have not been taught to open up and discuss what we’re dealing with, we often think we’re dealing with those things alone,” Brad Edwards, a community organizer for Dear Fathers, the platform where Str8 Mental is found, told the Times. “These guys are really forming bonds. It’s purely strangers coming together, being an open vulnerable safe space and pouring into each other.”
Public figures are also making efforts to encourage seeking therapy among Black people. Actress Taraji P. Henson announced last October the launch of a Facebook Watch show focused on mental health in the Black community. She created the Boris Lawrence Foundation in 2018 to help achieve better mental health among African Americans.
“I’m looking forward to bringing this new talk series to Facebook Watch, where I can continue to create conversation around an issue that is near and dear to my heart,” Henson said when she announced the show.
Lewis said it is good that more attention is being paid to improving mental health in the Black community, but more work is needed.
“We should all be working toward maintaining our mental health,” said Lewis, “particularly when we’re facing increased visibility of police aggression seemingly without any justice.”
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