Black History Month & Mental Health

Updated: Feb 10

Racism & Mental Health

Racism is a mental health issue due to the trauma that it causes. Trauma paints a direct line to mental illnesses, which need to be taken seriously. Past trauma is prominently mentioned as the reason that people experience serious mental health conditions today.

Obvious forms of racism and bigotry are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to racial trauma. Every day, people of color experience far more subtle traumas:

  • People who avoid them and their neighborhoods out of ignorance and fear

  • Banks and credit companies who won’t lend money or do so at higher interest rates

  • Mass incarceration of their peers

  • School curricula that ignore or minimize their contributions to our shared history

  • Racial profiling.

Quick Stats

Black adults are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult Whites.

Although rates of depression are lower in Black people (24.6 percent) and Hispanic people (19.6 percent) than in White people (34.7 percent), depression in Black and Hispanic people is likely to be more persistent.

People who identify as being two or more races (24.9 percent) are most likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group.

Native and Indigenous Americans report higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence than any other ethic/racial group.

Mental and behavioral health conditions are common among people in the criminal justice system, in which BIPOC are disproportionately overrepresented. Approximately 50 percent to 75 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness.

Cultural incompetence of health care providers likely contributes to under diagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental illness in BIPOC. Language differences between patient and provider, stigma of mental illness among BIPOC, and cultural presentation of symptoms are some of the many barriers to care that explain these errors in the diagnostic process.

Native and Indigenous American adults have the highest reported rate of mental illnesses of any single race identifying group.


Offering Support

While it can feel difficult or uncomfortable at first to talk to

someone with a different perspective, experience or culture from your own, it’s important to connect with peers and loved ones to provide support to those who may need it most.

  • Take time to learn. Use the myriad online resources, books and documentaries available to learn more about different cultures and how they are impacted by mental health and substance use challenges.

  • Respect the person’s culture. When you are talking or listening to someone of a different culture, show an attitude of acceptance and respect the person’s feelings, culture, personal values and experiences, even if they are different from your own or you disagree with them. Do not judge, criticize or trivialize what the person says.

  • Ask questions. It’s OK if you have questions or don’t understand something. Instead of making assumptions, respectfully ask questions that show you genuinely care and want to understand.

  • Focus on recovery and well-being. Conversations about mental illness are shifting away from only the “illness” or “deficit” way of describing mental illness. It’s more common now to hear people talk about well-being and recovery. When interacting with someone who may be struggling with a mental health or substance use challenge, focus on these topics and encourage them to pursue their own journey to recovery within their cultural practices.


Seeking Culturally Competent Care

If you or someone you know is unsure where to seek services, your/their primary care physician could be a good start. A primary care professional might be able to provide an initial mental health assessment and referral to a mental health professional if needed. Community and faith organizations may also have a list of available mental health providers in your area. When a person is experiencing challenges with their mental health, it is essential for them to receive quality care as soon as the symptoms are recognized. It is equally important that the care they receive is provided by culturally competent health care professionals. These questions may be helpful:

  • Have you treated other Black people or received training in cultural competence for Black mental health? If not, how do you plan to provide me with culturally sensitive, patient-centered care?

  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?

  • Do you use a different approach in your treatment when working with patients from different cultural backgrounds?

  • What is your current understanding of differences in health outcomes for Black patients?

Whether you seek help from a primary care professional or a mental health professional, you should finish your sessions with the health care professional feeling heard and respected. You may want to ask yourself:

  • Did my provider communicate effectively with me?

  • Is my provider 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 provider understands and relates well with me?

The relationship and communication between a person and their provider is a key aspect of treatment. It’s very important for a person to feel that their identity is understood by their provider in order to receive the best possible support and care.


Other Resources


Group aimed at removing the barriers that Black people experience getting access to or staying connected with emotional health care and healing. They do this through education, training, advocacy and the creative arts.

Black Mental Health Alliance

(410) 338-2642 Provides information and resources and a “Find a Therapist” locator to connect with a culturally competent mental health professional.

Call BlackLine - 24/7 Hotline

1-800-604-5841 Operates a 24/7 hotline that people can call or text for support with crisis counseling, to report negative interactions with the police, and to be a referral source for Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

Melanin & Mental Health

Connects individuals with culturally competent clinicians committed to serving the mental health needs of Black & Latinx/Hispanic communities. Promotes the growth and healing of diverse communities through its website, online directory and events.

The Steve Fund

Organization focused on supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of young people of color.

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