VIEW: Black Mental Health Awareness

Alexis Yeboah has a Masters of Public Health from the University of Minnesota and is a writer and healthcare consultant focused on whole-person care for Black communities.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time for us to promote the use of, advocate the need for, and share our experiences with mental health. I think about my mental health a lot, especially with the transition from relative pandemic isolation to this period of reentry into society. As a Black woman in our world, it is top of my mind more than ever.

Black mental health is underreported, under-talked about, under-cared for. In talking with my loved ones who have never been to therapy or are not in it currently — and want to be — I have heard the same reasons about why they find it hard: stigma, racism, time, and money.

For many Black people, mental health is a luxury financially and socially. It is hard to worry about your mental health when you are not valued in society and when your focus is to survive.

According to the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association, only two percent of psychiatrists and four percent of psychologists are Black. This is something I often think about when reflecting on my mental health journey. I started therapy at 20, and have been in therapy off and on (mostly on) for over a decade. I can truthfully say, one of the reasons I have had such an extensive and mostly positive experience in my mental health journey is because my very first therapist was Black. I did not have to explain all the cultural baggage. He got it and I felt comfortable instantly.

There are multi-level solutions that need to be engaged in order to provide access to adequate mental healthcare Black people, such as:

  1. Mandate full mental health coverage. There is no reason mental health is treated as separate from physical health. Mental health care can greatly reduce rates of addiction, incarceration, and recidivism. Mental health is a justice issue.
  2. Create programs and pipelines with incentives encouraging Black students to pursue careers in mental health.
  3. Talk about mental health. We must normalize the use of mental health services. That includes destigmatizing and accepting the diagnoses of ourselves and others.
  4. Celebrate generational strides we have made in Black mental health. I think about how even the mention of mental health would be seen as disrespectful in my parents and grandparents generations.

Yet racism is pervasive in mental health, as it is in all parts of the healthcare system. I ask non-Black mental health professionals to do an internal review of how they have harmed, intentionally or not, Black patients and how the mental health system has been weaponized. Perhaps that includes court-ordered therapy or stereotyped diagnoses that follow Black children throughout their educational career. Accountability is needed.

As I continue on my own mental health journey, I want to offer a few resources I have found invaluable:

  1. Therapy for Black Girls Podcast
  2. Finding Black mental health professionals:
    Therapy for Black Girls Provider Search
    Psychology Today: Black and African American Therapists in Minnesota
  3. Black therapists on social media
    Nedra Glover Tawwab, @nedreatawwab
    Therapy To A Tea, Co. @therapytoateaco

I am often the person in my circles talking about my mental journey, including therapy, medications, supplements, and mindful practices. For me, mental health is not separate from physical health.

Although Mental Health Awareness month is coming to a close, we have all year to continue focusing on mental health awareness. I hope we will see the acceleration of culturally relevant mental health practices for Black people, more Black therapists, and growing insurance coverage for access to these services.

It is imperative that our society enables everyone to move past coping and surviving, towards thriving. Mental health tools take us towards this goal.