Mental Health & the Common Barriers and Misconceptions
In many communities of color, the stigma around mental health is REAL. How many types have you heard phrases like “therapy is for crazy people, and I’m not crazy”, “therapy is not for people of color” or my personal favorite “I don’t need therapy, I just need to pray/go to church”. Going to church and having faith are wonderful practices that can enrich your life and foster positivity and hope, but sorry to break it to you but it won’t treat clinical depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or any other mental health disorder. It is NOT just for Caucasian people. With all the socioeconomic issues, financial stressors, family dynamics, oppression, exposure to violence, and discrimination, etc. that we experience as a people of color, therapy needs to be a topic is discussed more often in our communities. Based on statistics from the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. However, according to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health) compared to 40% of Caucasians, only ¼ of African Americans seek mental health treatment. Everyone can benefit from developing adaptive coping skills, or discussing sensitive or painful topics in an unbiased and judgment free zone; not just “crazy folks”.
Many individuals in general, including people of color believe that seeking help or treatment for a mental health issue means that you are weak. A client of mine told me that she was informed by a close friend that black women don’t get postpartum depression, and then told her that she was exaggerating. Can you imagine feeling hopeless, overwhelmed, and confused, sharing your experience with a friend and then receiving a response like that? I can’t. It is an incredibly invalidating statement to make, and it’s also an ignorant statement. Women of color do indeed experience postpartum depression. It is just rarely discussed and rarely acknowledged. African American men also suffer from depression. Suicide rates among African Americans have been increasing; especially for African American boys and men.
The stigma around mental health can cause those within our community to feel invalidated and alone. It also causes many to suffer in silence. As, a professional clinical counselor, I have come in contact with all different types of people with varying disorders, issues, races, and experiences. My experience with both people of color and those of a lower socioeconomic status, that I have treated is that many are misinformed about the process of therapy, its benefits, common symptoms and treatments, and one of the biggest barriers is trust. A common theme amongst the people of color that I have treated is that they don’t want anyone to know that there are being treated. One of my client’s was afraid to ask her doctor for help or recommendations because her doctor knows many of her other friends and she didn’t want anyone to know that she was thinking about receiving mental health treatment. This woman trusts her doctor and her doctor knows everything else about her health; yet she still didn’t trust/feel comfortable enough to discuss the topic of mental health treatment with him.
Accessibility is a huge barrier for individuals seeking treatment. Treatment centers and facilities may not be in areas that are easily accessible by public transportation. Individuals may also not have the financial ability to pay for transportation. There are medical transportation companies that can take you to and from your appointments. The rides are paid for by billing your insurance company. Check online or call your insurance company to find out what companies service your area. Insurance coverage is another major barrier. Many people in this country don’t have private insurance or insurance at all and that can be a giant barrier when it comes to getting treatment. Thankfully many organizations and facilities accept Medicaid and Medicare insurance as well as private insurance. If you don’t have insurance, sliding scale fees are a thing! Many treatment facilities and organizations have self-pay options and sliding scale billing, where the amount you pay is based on your income.
As a mental health professional I strive to educate and work to reduce the stigma around mental health, especially in minority communities. Mental health doesn’t discriminate and it affects all people, all ages, and all races. We have to change how we view mental health, change our language in regards to how we describe those with mental health disorders, and we have to be more supportive to those in need of treatment. For more information on mental health in general and where to find treatment check out :