Why Black People Who Need Mental Health Care Aren't Getting The Treatment They Deserve

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Mental Health Disparity In The Black Community

The conversation around mental health is always an important one. It is crucial that we, as a society, continue the work to destigmatize mental health issues.

Of course, we can’t continue that work until we acknowledge the disparity — and sometimes blatant racism — that the Black community faces when searching for treatment and care for their own mental health needs.

The experience of being Black in America varies from person to person, but there are shared issues that plague many people within the Black community. 

One of those shared issues is the repeated struggle with racial bias within the healthcare system.

Black people have been systematically affected by racism and prejudice in the U.S. healthcare system, and that has taken a powerful physical and emotional toll on this community's overall well-being.

Economic disparities between racial groups make it more difficult for some to acquire health insurance, preventing people from receiving adequate medical care. Racism also exists within healthcare itself and can lead doctors to neglect, disbelieve, or actively discriminate against patients. 

In a 2012 study, Janice A. Sabin, a research associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Education at the University of Washington School of Medicine, and her colleagues discovered information on pediatricians' unconscious racial biases towards Black patients and how they treated pain.

The study found that the likelihood of prescribing appropriate pain medication decreased for the black patients.

It was also found that Black/African-American patients were 22% less likely than white patients to receive any pain medication, even in cases with objective medical necessity for pain control.

There is also the staggering racial disparity with Black women who face significantly higher mortality risks than white women and women of other races. Black mothers are 12 times more likely to die than white mothers. 

There was even a 2016 analysis done over the course of five years of data which found that Black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.

America is actively and and intently failing Black mothers across the nation. 

RELATED: Is The Health Care System Racist? 5 Ways Black People Are Affected By Medical Racism

Black people face higher risks of health issues because of the racial impact on their physical and mental health.

A 2015 review found that racism was strongly associated with mental health difficulties, contributing to stress, anxiety, and depression. 

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness and feeling like every little thing is a major effort.

There's also a higher rate of suicide among young Black females. A study which was published in the Journal of Community Health found the rate of suicide deaths among young Black males increased by 60% from 2001 through 2017, and 182% for young black females during that same time period.

Currently, suicide is the second leading cause of death after homicide for African-Americans between the ages of 13 and 19, and the rate continues to climb.

When you take into account all of the ways in which receiving proper treatment is a challenge for Black patients (among other forms of racism), it's no surprise people in the Black community experience such high levels of stress.

RELATED: How Racism & Prejudice Destroys Mental Health

Because of the many stigmas that Black people face, and the racial profiling that occurs in healthcare, Black people aren’t as willing to seek out professional help when it comes to their mental health. Especially considering that many mental health issues aren’t physically visible. 

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Accessibility to health insurance compounds with a high out-of-pocket cost of seeing therapists, psychiatrists, or any other mental health professionals, and is another challenge that Black people face, especially Black people living in poverty. 

In addition to the systemic barriers that prevent Black people from seeking help, there is also the stigma around mental health within the Black community.

Many Black people are not given a safe space to address and acknowledge their mental health struggles. More often than not, they are brushed aside, and instead of being offered professional help, their mental health is regarded as an afterthought. 

There is also a lack of information in the Black community when it comes to how to handle mental health and where to go to seek help when there's a genuine need. 

When it comes to addressing mental health within the Black community, it doesn’t hurt to reach out to professionals who are also Black. It also doesn’t hurt to ask questions to ascertain if a specific professional has treated Black people before.

There has to be a larger conversation when it comes to treating mental health in the Black population, especially when looking at the harsh stigma that is attached to it.

RELATED: What Does #BlackInTheIvory Mean? Black Academics Share Stories Of Institutional Racism At Universities And Hospitals

Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.