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Black History Month: Overcoming the Barriers to Care

by Skylar DeBruyn, BSW Intern

The month of February is a time when we recognize Black History Month–a celebration of the achievements and role that the African American community plays in United States history. When discussing Black History Month, it is important to understand the experiences and barriers that affect the African American community. This allows for proper informing of mental health resources and helps each community see that they are not alone in their struggles.

The Barriers

According to NAMI, “In 2018, 11.5% of Black adults in the U.S. had no form of health insurance.” This is a result of socioeconomic disparities that arise due to the lack of appropriate and culturally competent resources available to the African American community. These disparities tend to contribute to the overall worsening mental health of African American individuals.

Just as with many other communities, there is a negative stigma attached to receiving mental health care within the African American community. Many African American individuals would rather seek support from their faith-based community instead of the medical field. The reasoning for this is that oftentimes faith and spirituality are significant sources of strength in African American communities in the U.S. However, there are many instances where the two should go hand-in-hand in order to provide treatment and the support system that individuals may need. There is a common mistrust by African Americans for the medical and psychological fields because of fear of misunderstanding or prejudice.

Attached to negative stigma is the discrimination that is commonly faced by the African American community. Culturally competent care can be difficult to come by in certain areas. Much of the “why?” is to do with the location of treatment centers or the negative relationship between household income and appropriate mental health care. According to NAMI, “Black people may also be more likely to identify and describe physical symptoms related to mental health problems [...]”. As a result, a lack of cultural competence may cause clinicians to misunderstand and misdiagnose. This may lead to situations where, for example, “Black men are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD.”

Seeking Appropriate and/or Culturally Competent Care

Quality care is essential for those experiencing mental health crises. For the African American community, that quality care may include finding a clinician that has a heightened sense of cultural awareness. It is OKAY to appropriately ask a clinician questions before the session to better understand their cultural competency (if it is not made known).

According to NAMI, you may also want to ask yourself the following questions when you finish a session with your clinician:

  • Did my clinician communicate effectively with me?

  • Is my clinician willing to integrate my beliefs, practices, identity, and cultural background into my treatment plan?

  • Did I feel like I was treated with respect and dignity?

  • Do I feel like my clinician understands and relates well with me?

Asking yourself these questions will help you to put yourself first and receive the best form of support possible. At the end of the day, that clinician should be your safe space! The relationship developed between a client and their clinician is a major factor in the success of treatment.

Black Mental Health Resources

NAMI provides information regarding many resources that are readily available and accessible for members of the African American community. Some of these resources include:

We at Graceful Therapy would like to help you on your mental health healing journey. With culturally competent clinicians and a diverse staff, we wish to emphasize that those within the African American community are not alone and we welcome you to find a safe space within us. We want to help break the stigma.

Schedule an appointment at Graceful Therapy today:

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