Black and African American Men face a unique and distinct set of factors that render them vulnerable to different types of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and many others.
From the origins of brutality, captivity and barbarism
From the origins of brutality, captivity and barbarism that marked the arrival of Africans to the United States; to the generations of marginalization and oppression that impeded their pursuit of freedom and equality; to systemic institutional and cultural factors that continue to impede quality of life at disproportionately high rates, it can be argued that trauma is an integral part of the Black Male American experience, as baked in as the legacy of mistreatment that continues to impact their everyday lives.
“it can be argued that trauma is an integral part of the Black Male American experience“
Ironically, one of the glaring byproducts of this legacy of inequality is a fundamental disparity in access to care for the very trauma and mental illness that it creates. Understanding and addressing mental health issues among black and African American males requires a long view of their historic collective experience, assessing how it impacts their current life and the embedded issues of identity and access disparity that can preclude proper clinical treatment. It also requires acknowledging an existing mistrust on the part of many in this community and finding ways to increase culturally appropriate and adequately sensitive outreach efforts to increase care.
Rates of Mental Illness among Black and African American Men
Data from Mental Health America indicates that over 16 percent of the African American community suffers from some sort of mental illness, a figure that represents over seven million people. At the same time, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that roughly two in nine African Americans struggle with serious mental illness (SMI) and that over 6.5 million had a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness, representing an increase of over 10 percent from the previous year. These numbers may be poised to rise even more in the wake of the 2020 protests of racially discriminatory police misconduct and shootings.
“two in nine African Americans struggle with serious mental illness“
Data reported by Columbia University indicates that the adult Black community is 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder and that Black young adults (ages 18-25) also experience higher rates of mental health problems and lower rates of mental health service utilization compared to White emerging adults, and older Black adults. Some of the everyday lived-experience factors that contribute to these stark numbers include racially Motivated Discrimination and mistreatment from institutional entities that make community mobility difficult and that more than 20 Percent of African Americans live below the poverty line.
Mental Health Treatment Barriers Facing Black and African American Men
Data from SAMHSA indicates that over 65 percent of African American young adults (18-25) with serious mental illness did not receive it in 2019; the same can be said for over 41 percent of adults in this group ages 26-49. There are multiple factors contributing to this phenomenon, including lack of access to care, identity and stigma-related issues and more.
“over 65 percent of African American young adults (18-25) with serious mental illness did not receive it in 2019”
There continues to be a deep and abiding stigma toward mental illness among African Americans which often gets in the way of awareness and acknowledgement necessary to seek help. A 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin on the perception of mental illness among African Americans found that a majority of participants were deeply reluctant to recognize they had a problem or seek help because of perception and shame-related concerns. Black men, in particular, are often concerned about stigma, leading to perpetuation and worsening of their mental health issues.
Additionally, there is a fundamental lack of treatment access that continues to impact this population. Data from Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 1.5 percent of Black and African Americans, versus 7.5 percent of white Americans. The American Psychiatric Association indicates that Black and African American people are more commonly diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people who present with identical symptoms. Addressing these identity and access-related issues is fundamental to reversing course on this public health issue.
Mental Health Resources for Black and African American Men
Although disparities in mental health diagnoses and treatment access continue to impact Black mean and the African American community at large, there are multiple resources of which the population can avail themselves that may offer guidance toward treatment, peace of mind and balanced mental health.
Resources for Black Men Mental Health including but by no means limited to:
- Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM)
- The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
- Safe Black Space
- Therapy for Black Men
- Black men face high discrimination and depression, even as their education and incomes rise
“key factor in improving mental health treatment outcomes among this community is by providing culturally responsive dispensation of care.”
Another key factor in improving mental health treatment outcomes among this community is by providing culturally responsive dispensation of care. Taking a holistic approach to treatment and understanding the cultural factors that lead to and sustain mental illness can empower providers to administer more intuitive, comprehensive care. If you or someone you care about is a black or African American man in need of assistance for mental health issues, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Admitting you need care is a sign of strength; not weakness.