Mental health has been a stigmatized and delicate topic of discussion in the United States, even though studies have estimated that depression alone affects close to 20 million Americans every year. On top of that fact, women and African Americans are 4% more likely to report cases of depression as opposed to the 2.7% of males and 3.1% of their White counterparts. By the statistics alone, we can see that black women are at a very high risk of depression and other mental health illnesses, however, their rates of treatment are significantly lower, so why?
Within the African-American community, only about 7.6% of people seeking treatment to help with their mental health recovery versus the 13.6% of the general population in a study done in 2011.
– U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The drastic difference is the direct result of the history of the race in the United States and the overwhelming negative stigma associated with seeking treatment within the African American community. In a study polling an African American community on why they felt the stigma was so strong, the theme of slavery was common in the answers.
Many reasoned that during slavery the sole emphasis was on maintaining physical health as much as possible and no time could ever be put into mental health. As the African American community evolved, the idea of mental health as a weakness, or the idea that time could not be allotted for treating mental illnesses, continued and transformed into the mark of disgrace that it is today.
For many years, mental health illnesses have been viewed as a sign of weakness or a problem that should be dealt with alone. Though a general sentiment felt throughout the US, these ideas of mental health being a weakness are especially prevalent within the African American community. Women also have the added weight and pressure of needing to hold the family together or be the symbol of strength for everyone around them.
Women, with or without kids, are often viewed in a motherly manner, which often times lends itself to a pressure to put others before yourself. This pressure not only can enhance problems of mental health but also create an environment where it seems selfish or disgraceful to let down those reliant on the woman. The buildup of this pressure often makes the seeking of treatment or public acceptance of the illness seemingly impossible for women.
In addition to the societal views on mental health, systematic racism also has created a situation in which African Americans often times do not have access to the programs and professionals that specialize in the treatment of mental health. Often times therapists are either too expensive or not physically accessible to predominantly African American communities.
Despite the stigmas and the lack of access, all of the multicultural women reading should know that you are powerful, you are capable, you are special, and no struggle with mental health will ever diminish any of those facts.
You should also refer to this powerful blog post written by Minaa B, founder, and CEO of Respect Your Struggle.