Social Justice Corner: What real darkness looks like

Looking inside mental heath stigma, awareness and care through the African-American community

With the stigmatization of mental health and problems related to the mind, not only in America, but also societally around the world, the topic is not widely spoken on.

If the examination of mental health were thoroughly looked at, on an almost nonexistent scale, one would notice that the discussion of mental health in African-American communities and other marginalized groups is not there.

Like most issues, African-Americans do not receive invitations because of the lack of statistics and information accounted for the culture and people. This is due to the fact that white privilege in the arena of treatment and care for mental health exists.

According to the Surgeon General’s Report from 2001, taken from the American Psychological Association studies show, “African Americans are just as much at risk for mental illness as their white counterparts, yet receive substantially less treatment.”

Also from the same set of data, an analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau shows that “in 2005, African Americans were 7.3 times as likely to live in high poverty neighborhoods with limited to no access to mental health services.”

One of the main reasons why African-Americans are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment of their mental illnesses are the cultural biases that exist within the African-American community about mental health and the health profession.

In statistics gathered from the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Multicultural Action Center, “only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists, and 4 percent of social workers in the U.S. are African American.” While this information factors in with why some African-Americans do not receive treatment, there is also evidence of discrimination against African and Caribbean-Americans who do seek treatment.

In a questionnaire study done by professors Christopher Salas-Wright and Trenette Clark from the University of Texas-Austin and University of North Carolina, respectively, found that “83 percent of the participants faced discrimination during the past year.

Nearly 50 percent of the participants reported recurrent discriminations and approximately one-seventh (14.7 percent) reported frequent experiences of discriminations. The participants belonging to the last two groups were more likely to report symptoms for depressive disorder, alcohol-use and illicit drug-use disorders.”

Another crucial reason as to why African-Americans receive less treatment is insurance. Also from the Surgeon General’s Report published by the American Psychological Association, “nearly 25 percent of African Americans are uninsured and are also more likely to use emergency and/or primary care specialists.” There is also evidence of psychiatrists and physicians “short-changing” their prescriptions to African-American patients so that the patient receives less or more than the average dose.

The NAMI Intercultural Center reports information that suggests, “that African Americans metabolize medications more slowly than Caucasian Americans, yet they often receive higher doses of psychiatric medications, which may result in increased side effects and decreased medication compliance.”

Now that the information is out in the open, what steps are there to make sure that African-Americans receive adequate mental health care?

Ones step would be to provide more resources for lower-income African-Americans. Seeking out help is important, but access to help is even more important.