Even in discussions about the effects of healthcare inequity and inequality on Black communities, the topic of Black mental health is often overlooked.
Not only is it overlooked, but when Black folks do speak up and seek help, there are significant barriers that prevent them from accessing the mental health care they need.
So, how can we bring more awareness to something so vital to the health and happiness of Black communities in this country and around the world? And what can we do to change the narrative around Black mental health — to identify those barriers and promote equity in mental health care for people everywhere?
Ahead, we speak with experts on the importance of Black mental health, including how to prompt real change that benefits everyone in Black communities.
Our “health” encompasses everything about us — from the well-being of our bodies to our emotional state and so much more. But even though we often view health through a primarily physical lens, the reality is that our mental health is just as integral to our overall sense of wellness.
“Mental health is an incredibly important factor for a fulfilling life. And having good mental health means having a better quality of life and satisfaction with your overall being,” Dr. Francesca K. Owoo, LCPC, LMHC, a licensed therapist who specializes in helping BIPOC couples and families navigate chronic illness, tells Healthline.
“Mental well-being should always be prioritized to ensure that everyone can experience stability and wellness in their lives,” Owoo says.
But in BIPOC communities in the United States, especially in Black communities, factors like racism, oppression, and trauma can severely affect a person’s mental well-being and contribute to huge disparities in mental illness rates.
“Mental illness is a pervasive issue in the African American community, with many negative social and economic impacts,” explains Owoo. She states that factors driving mental health disparities among African Americans include:
- distrust of the medical system
- institutionalized racism and oppression
- trauma caused by racism and violence
- healthcare inequities
- lack of access to quality mental health care
- cultural competency gaps among providers
- the lack of diverse mental health professionals
- the common stigma of seeking help within the Black community
While all these elements can compound mental health factors for the Black community, we should be clear that Black people experience mental health conditions at similar rates to other racial groups. However, when they do, Black people tend to have a much harder time accessing resources to treat them.
What is cultural competency?
Dr. Owoo mentions a lack of cultural competency as one of the many factors fueling disparities in mental health care. But what is cultural competency, exactly?
Cultural competency in medical care is the idea of medical professionals providing effective care within cross-cultural situations. Cross-cultural situations are interactions that involve components such as different languages, communication styles, beliefs, and values.