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Updated: Mar 1

Being Black and Mental Health: Why is mental health neglected in the black community?

There is a great deal of negative stigma around mental health within the black community and it is important to help to raise awareness of the struggles faced whilst experiencing mental health issues.

Why is mental health sometimes neglected in the black community?

It is evident that as people of colour we ignore all things related to mental struggles. But why is this? Why do we frown upon the idea of mental issues?

As a young black woman, society tells us that we should all be ‘strong, independent and proud of our heritage’. What does it mean to be a strong and independent woman? This narrative has been embedded in society for as long as I can remember. This has been illustrated through figures within the media, story characters, celebrities and the list continue. Often a black woman is portrayed as someone who is struggling, typically juggling multiple things at once, such as being a single mother in a working-class neighbourhood, working multiple jobs, receiving domestic, emotional, and physical abuse, trying to stay in education and battling with institutionalised racism. As a result, not showing any form of external emotion.

Being strong, independent, and black often results in being emotionally unavailable and unaware of what’s happening within your head. There is a negative stigma that paints a black woman as “weak”. This is because showing and speaking about your emotions is associated with weakness, which emphasises the idea that black people are not meant to show emotions. This unhealthy narrative has damaged the way in which the black community operates and challenge certain topics.

Drug and alcohol abuse has always been associated with the black community, which we know has had a detrimental effect on our community. One of the ways drug and substance abuse has been used in the black community is as a coping mechanism. This is to cushion the mental pain the individual is experiencing, as they feel they cannot express their mind at the time. As a result of the stigma associated with therapy within the black community, people often resort to drug and substance abuse as a substitute for treatment. This has always had a negative affect on the individual and the black community. Again, this is often highlighted in film and television.

“Black men don’t cry”

This phrase has been part of black culture since the beginning of time, and it has damaged black males emotionally. It has been hard for black women, but the men have had it worse. The strong black male is shown as the breadwinner, money motivated, emotionally unavailable, and mentally unavailable. From a very young age black boys are told that they shouldn’t cry as it makes them “weak” and with no explanation black men are forbidden to show emotion especially tears. According to statistics by Mental Health Foundation UK, black men are more likely to have experienced a psychotic disorder in the last year than white men and black people are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than white people.

How does this affect me as a millennial?

For many of us, our parents grew up in a time where mental illness was completely shunned across all ethnicities, ages and working backgrounds. As a result of this, many of our parents have become desensitised to certain situations and have experienced a range of life circumstances that has affected their mental health. Many of our parents have unresolved trauma, this affects their everyday life and unfortunately some of their parenting styles which causes a knock-on effect on their children. To this day, some of us are carrying their trauma and experiencing the effects of their unresolved issues. This also leads to societal pressures and generational issues. Their children are then challenged with the negative effects of their parent’s unresolved trauma.

This can be difficult for us as millennials, as our generation is more comfortable and open about our mental health issues. We now live in an era where the stigma around mental health has been minimised, as there are many advocates for mental health.

During the pandemic, many young people took to social media to actively express the mental affects the pandemic was having on the nation. As a result of this, there has been an increase in mental health awareness and the positive benefits of therapy and counselling. Although this is revolutionary, as mental health awareness is on the rise, it is now challenging the beliefs of the older generations.

The downside to raising awareness for mental health, is that previous generations find it difficult to understand and relate to young people, when speaking about their mental wellbeing. Many young people find it hard to speak to their parents about their mental health due to a lack of understanding and comprehension on the side of the parent/guardian. This is even more challenging for those who identify with the BAME community due to cultural factors.

How to overcome these struggles and stigma:

There are many resources available for young people and adults seeking mental advice.

Some of these are:

- Online forums are a great way to seek advice as they offer a safe space for individuals to speak anonymously.

  • online therapy

  • mental health charities and organisations are also a great way to get help and find the right person to speak to

  • Online blogs give you the opportunity to read about similar circumstances

  • Wellbeing books/eBooks

  • Youth clubs & networks

If you are struggling with your mental health or would like to read more about mental health issues, reach out to your local mental health service or helpline. Do not struggle alone because we are all here to help each other.

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