Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Taboos in the Black Community

I apologize for missing last week’s blog post; I was sick with a fever, chills, and a sore throat. It was not fun, but with the help of Pharmacist Squigglekins and his knowledge of medication, I was able to get better! Love you, Squiggs!


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013-2014, 3.4% of Non-Hispanic Black adults 18 and older experienced psychological distress in comparison to 3.2% of Non-Hispanic White adults 18 and older.

In the same survey, Non-Hispanic Black adults experienced more sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness in comparison to their Non-Hispanic White counterpart.

Seventy-two percent of Non-Hispanic White adults received treatment after a major depressive episode as compared to 62.1% Non-Hispanic Black adults.

When it comes to receiving mental health treatment or counseling in 2014, Non-Hispanic White adults received double the care as compared to Non-Hispanic Black adults.

It is over double for Non-Hispanic Whites in comparison to Non-Hispanic Blacks when it comes to receiving prescription medications for mental health treatment or counseling.

Disparities in mental health treatment

The disparities in mental health treatment and care in the Black community attributes to racial issues, lack of cultural understanding, and taboos that lead individuals not to seek help when they are going through a mental health condition.

Mental Health Conditions that are Prevalent in the Black Community

The major mental health conditions that are prevalent in the Black community are
major depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Suicide (among young Black men) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

At-Risk Factors

There are also at risk for other factors that increase the likelihood of mental illness- they are homelessness and exposure to violence. Blacks make up 40% of the homelessness situation, and Black children are more likely to be exposed to violence than children in other demographics.

Many Reasons for the Taboo

Similar to other minorities, mental illness is a taboo in the Black community. There are many reasons for this:

Distrust and Misdiagnoses 

In the past, Blacks have been negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the healthcare system. Inadequate care, misdiagnosis, and lack of cultural understanding breeds distrust and prevents many individuals from receiving help or staying in treatment.

Lack of Information and Misunderstanding about Mental Health

Black communities perceive mental illness as a sign of weakness or some punishment from God.

Socio-Economic Issues

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19% of Blacks do not have any form of health insurance. The ACA broke the barrier and made buying insurance easier.


Some studies that show Blacks metabolize many medications more slowly than the general population yet are more likely to receive higher dosages. The increase in dosage can result in unwanted side effects and decrease the likelihood of staying in treatment.

Provider Bias and Inequality of Care

Conscious and unconscious bias and lack of cultural understanding leads to more misdiagnoses and poorer quality of care. For instance, Blacks, especially women, are more likely to experience or mention physical pains related to mental health. A medical professional who is not culturally competent may not recognize these illnesses as a mental health condition. Also, Black men are likely to receive the misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD.

How You Can Help

Despite the taboos, there are ways to receive help. First, if you are uncomfortable going straight to a mental health professional, a primary doctor is an excellent way to start. The doctor may be able to initiate an assessment to see if you have a mental health condition or give you a referral to a mental health professional.

Also, there are questions you can ask your mental health professional to gauge their cultural sensitivity. These issues can be:

  • Have you treated African Americans before?
  • Have you received training in cultural competence or African American mental health?
  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  • How do you plan to integrate my beliefs and practices in my treatment?

If finances are a problem, contact a local health or mental health clinic, or local government to see what services you qualify. You can find treatment at or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).

Here are websites for more information:

You can also find a therapist or mental health provider here:

Information by:

Let’s Erase the Stigma


Psychology Today

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health