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Understanding Mental Health Disparities in Black and African American Communities

mental health

Mental health conditions affect Black and African American (B/AA) individuals in America at a similar or slightly lower frequency c ompar e d to W h it e Americans.
H o w e v e r , t h e historical experiences of trauma and violence among Black and African American communities continue to influence their emotional and mental well-being, particularly due to ongoing racism and inequalities.
The effects are seen across different ag e groups, from youth to adults. These dynamics ar e h i gh l i gh t e d i n prevalence statistics and various social factors.
The legacy of dehumanization, oppression, and violence against Black and African American individuals has evolved into present-day racism, encompassing structural, institutional, and individual aspects.
This contributes to a distinct community experience characterized by mistrust and limited resources, inc luding insufficient access to healthcare services. The challenges of processing ind ivid ual traumas, compounded by new t rau m as s te m mi n g from COVID-19, police brutality, divisive politics, and more, create comple x burdens for responsible mental health management.
H e l p – s e e k i n g behaviors are impacted by mistrust of the medical system, often leading to initial outreach through faith-based channels.
However, data from Mental Health America (MHA) reveals that Black and African American individuals who screen positive
for depression express higher intentions to seek help compared to the general population.
P arado xicall y ,
the number of Black and African American mental health providers is limited, despite their ability to provide more relevant and effective care.
Consequently, these communities are more like ly to e xpe rie nc e chronic and persistent mental health conditions, underscoring the need for better mental health services.
Demographics and Societal Factors Black and African American individuals constitute 13.4% of the U.S. population, with an ad d itional 2.7% identifying as multiracial.

Distribution across
regions is as follows: 55% reside in the South, 18% in the Midwest, 17% in the Northeast, and 10% in the West.
Between 1980 and 2016, the Black immigrant population in the U.S. increased from 816,000 to over
4.2 million, with 39% from Africa and nearly half from the Caribbean.
Around 24% of Black and African American indi viduals held a ba chelo r’ s de g ree o r higher by 2017.
In 2018, more than 1 in 5 Black and African American individuals lived in poverty.
Women head roughly 30% of Black and African American households, compared to 9% in white households.
Historical adversities suc h as sla v e r y, sharecropping , and exclusion from resources contribute to present-day socioeconomic disparities affecting mental health.
Prevalence
Black and African
American individuals below the poverty line are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress compared to those above twice the poverty level.

Among adults, feelings
of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness are more prevalent in Black and African American communities than among white individuals.
W hile Blac k and African American adults are less likely to die by suicide than whites, Bl ac k an d A fr i c an American teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts.
Ac c ord ing to th e 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
16% of Black and Afric an Ame ric an ind ividuals re por ted having a mental illness, with 22.4% of them experiencing a serious mental illness in the past year.
Serious mental illness (SMI) increased across all age groups within the community between 2008 and 2018.
R a t e s of m aj or
depressive episodes rose in Black and African American youth (ages 12-17), young adults (18-
25), and adults (26-49)
between 2015 and 2018.
Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts among Black and African

American young adults increased over the same period.
Substance use issues a re more pre va lent among Black and African American adults with mental illnesses.
Attitudes
Beliefs about stigma,
psychological openness, and help-seeking vary among Black and African American individuals. Seeking mental health se rvic e s is ofte n approached with caution, despite a willingness to seek some form of help.
Stigma and concerns about being perceived as “crazy” hinder open discussions about mental illness.Treatment

Black and African American individuals are more often diagnosed with schizophrenia and less frequently with mood disorders compared to white individuals with similar symptoms.
R e presenta tion
of Black and African American individuals in jails and prisons exceeds their proportion in the general population, with those with mental health conditions more likely to be incarcerated.
Lac k of c ultural co mpetence a mo ng me ntal h e alth c are practitioners and stigma pre v e nt ad e qua te treatment.
Access and Insurance Disparities in access to care persist despite the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
In 2018, a significant
percentage of Black and African American young adults and adults with serious mental illness did not receive treatment.
Treatment gaps also exist for those with substance use disorders.
Effor ts to address
these disparities are crucial, involving policy c h an g e s , i n c r e as e d re presenta tion, and destigmatizing mental health within the Black and African American communities.