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Overcoming stigma: How Black History Month Shapes Our Understanding of Mental Health in the Black Community

February 28, 2024
This Black History Month, RevCore dives into the unique mental health challenges the Black community faces

Overcoming stigma: How Black History Month Shapes Our Understanding of Mental Health in the Black Community


Overcoming stigma: How Black History Month Shapes Our Understanding of Mental Health in the Black Community

Black History Month is a time to honor the contributions and achievements of Black and African Americans, but it’s also a moment to spotlight important issues like mental health. This month, we explore the mental health challenges the Black community faces, rooted in history but very much affecting lives today.

The impact of historical trauma on mental health in the Black community

Understanding the mental health challenges within the Black community requires a look back at history.

For generations, Black Americans have faced systemic obstacles, from slavery and segregation to ongoing racial discrimination. There is evidence that trauma of this kind can be passed down genetically, affecting future generations even if they no longer have the same conditions.  

Even just the knowledge of historical trauma can have an impact on mental health, as seen in events like the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor killings, which caused heightened anxiety and depression, particularly pronounced in the Black community.

Celebrating a legacy of resilience and strength

Despite these challenges, the Black community has shown incredible resilience. From the civil rights movement to modern advocacy for racial equality, Black Americans have continually fought for justice and better conditions, including in the area of mental health. 

For example, Dr. Patricia Newton helped redefine how we look at Black psychiatry today when she recognized the intersection between psychology and psychiatry, as Black people’s trauma had both environmental and chemical causes. Another key figure is Taraji P. Henson, who both witnessed and experienced untreated mental health issues and decided to found the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation to destigmatize mental health in the Black community and make resources more culturally accessible. 

These inspiring individuals illustrate how great injustice can lead to great growth, meeting neglected needs and driving progress. We at RevCore strive to create an environment that not only welcomes this change — but supports and even instigates it. 

Overcoming the stigma of mental health treatment

One of the biggest hurdles in tackling mental health issues is overcoming the stigma, which alone is often enough to prevent someone from seeking help. If we want to address this challenge, we must understand the particular nuances stigma has in the Black community. 

  • Mistrust of medical systems: Research is less likely to include Black people, and there are also historical cases such as the Tuskegee syphilis experiment when Black people were involuntarily subjected to medical experiments.
  • Taboo topic: When asked if they’d feel comfortable discussing their health with people close to them, only 12.5% of Black respondents said yes (compared to 67% of White respondents). 
  • A sign of weakness: A study found that nearly two-thirds of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness, leading to feelings of shame. 
  • Cultural exclusion: Early models of mental health care and therapy were established to treat white middle-class families, pathologizing Black families that were structured differently from white ones in any way. 
  • Fear of judgment: Research shows that over a third of Black Americans believe that even mild depression or anxiety would be seen as “crazy” in their social circles.

Breaking down these misconceptions is crucial for fostering a more supportive environment where mental wellness is prioritized.

Barriers to accessing mental health services within Black communities

Black people have just as much need for mental health services as other populations — in fact, they are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. However, more than half do not receive treatment — and a staggering 90% of those with a substance use disorder do not receive treatment

These numbers make it clear that along with stigma, there are significant barriers to accessing mental health services in the Black community. Here are some of the main ones. 

1. Economic disparities and healthcare access

Economic barriers can significantly impact Black people’s access to mental health services. Research highlights that they are 2.5 times more likely to live below the poverty level and 50% more likely to be uninsured than White people.

2. Systemic racism in healthcare

Research indicates that systemic racism within the healthcare system contributes to disparities in mental healthcare access. The American Psychiatric Association noted that Black patients are less likely to be offered evidence-based medication or psychotherapy than the general population. Black people with mental health conditions are also more likely to be imprisoned compared to the general population. 

3. Cultural competency and provider availability

The American Psychological Association reports that less than 2% of its members are Black, pointing to a significant lack of representation. This gap can lead to a lack of culturally competent care, as providers may not fully understand the cultural, historical, and social contexts that affect Black Americans’ mental health.

RevCore’s commitment to promoting mental wellness for Black individuals

The current challenges are daunting, but they are not insurmountable. With continued advocacy, education, and community support, we can move toward a future where mental health is recognized as a critical part of the overall well-being of everyone in the Black community.

Here’s how we at RevCore play our part:

1. Equal representation

Recognizing the critical need for representation and cultural competency, we pride ourselves on maintaining a high percentage of Black professionals among our staff, reflective of our patient demographic. This ensures we provide services that understand the unique experiences of our Black patients, including the impact of racism and discrimination on mental health. We also understand the importance of seeing oneself reflected in the individuals providing care, as it fosters trust, understanding, and a more meaningful therapeutic relationship. 

2. Cultural competency training

Beyond hiring practices, RevCore invests in continuous cultural competency training for all our staff. This ensures every team member, regardless of their background, is equipped to address the nuanced needs of the Black community. 

3. Educational workshops

This year, we’re excited to announce our collaboration with Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). Together, we launched a series of workshops called “Brother, You’re on My Mind: Changing the National Dialogue Regarding Mental Health Among African American Men,” which were held for RevCore clients at our locations throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

Our goal is to shed light on the impacts of depression and stress on Black American men, their families, and communities, emphasizing the critical importance of reaching out for support.

Mental health resources and support for Black communities in New York

We at RevCore are always committed to ensuring the well-being of every individual, taking into account their unique story, needs, and circumstances. 

If you know someone in the Black community in need of mental health or substance use disorder services, we encourage you to refer them to RevCore. Our approach is designed to provide support that is not only effective but also deeply respectful of the cultural and historical experiences of our clients.

By embracing our collective strength and advocating for mental health awareness and support, we can pave the way for a future where everyone has the opportunity to thrive, regardless of their background.

Together, we can build a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

To make a referral or request to bring RevCore’s services to your location, reach out to Derwin at dmanigault@revcorerecovery.com.

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