It’s no secret that mental health and more specifically, therapy is highly stigmatized in the black community. Although black people are more likely to suffer from psychological distress, they are less likely to visit therapists or otherwise seek help. In a lot of black households, mental health is kept under wraps, not even to be discussed with other family members, and definitely not a stranger. For several reasons, there is a greater stigma surrounding therapy in black culture than white culture.
One of the biggest contributors to the stigma around therapy in the black community is religion. More than half of black Americans practice an organized religion, and many view their spirituality as a replacement for therapy. In black churches, the phrase ‘Just pray about it” can be heard every Sunday out of the mouths of preachers and church goers alike. This phrase can apply to anything: financial problems, divorce, etc. Most often , though, it is used to discourage people from seeking therapy. Instead, black people are taught that religion and therapy cannot exist together, and prayer can solve anything.
There is a greater stigma surrounding therapy in black culture.
Last week, ABC’s Black-ish tackled the topic of black people and therapy. The main character, Dre, resists visiting a therapist and secretly looks down on his wife for seeing one weekly. Admitting that you have mental health issues and seeking help is often considered to be weak and something that only white people do. The emphasis on being a tough black man or strong black woman keeps black people from getting the care they need. Although the descriptors tough and strong have positive connotations, it can be toxic to continuously force them on young black children. Consequently, these children grow up to be adults who reject any form of therapy and often refuse to acknowledge mental health disorders.
A general distrust of white medical professionals can influence a black person’s decision not to visit a therapist. This is not unwarranted, due to the years and years of rampant oppression that black people have faced. Fear of racism or discrimination keeps black people from seeking therapy.
As a community, we need to end the stigma around mental health, therapy, and black people. Therapy is not just a white people thing. Going to therapy doesn’t make you crazy or weak. It does not mean that you lack faith, and it does not take the place of religion. If we stop reinforcing harmful stereotypes of strength and the black community, more people would feel comfortable attending therapy and openly discussing mental health. An increase in black therapists would also make black people less resistant to therapy. Increasing representation in the psychological field, will help black patients feel as if they’ve found someone who can relate to their struggles.
Black people have suffered in silence for long enough. In 2017, let’s make it a goal to be more open about mental health and therapy.