History and stigma of mental health in Black community

NOW: History and stigma of mental health in Black community

SOUTH BEND, Ind., -- Mental health is becoming more normalized as celebrities and other celebrated figures, like Olympian Simone Biles talk more openly about their experiences.

Despite this progress, the discussion of mental health in the Black community is still stigmatized.

In a study by researchers at UCLA, only one in three African Americans who struggle with mental health issues will receive appropriate treatment. Those that do not reach out can face grim consequences.

Experienced therapist and breakthrough coach, Rhonda Gipson-Willis, talked about the history of the stigma on mental health in the Black community and about what can be done to help break the cycle of suffering in silence.

She said the stigma is rooted in the distrust many Black Americans have in the medical community, and this distrust started from the beginning Black history in the US.

“But even going back to slavery time, when the act of running away was deemed a psychological disorder,” said Gipson-Willis.

And since slavery, Black Americans have faced centuries of trauma that have been normalized.

“Just as you look at the history of black people in this country. It was a very traumatic start. It’s been very traumatic from then until now. When you look at some of the things that have happened in our community as it relates to gun violence, as it relates to racism—systemic, institutionalized racism. There’s a lot of normalizing of things that are very traumatic and still impacts our system, but we still have to show up every day,” said Gipson-Willis.

Contributing to the stigma, Gipson-Willis also says that stereotypes like the ‘strong black woman’ trope or ‘how to be a man’ do not allow Black individuals to feel the need to reach out for help when it is needed.

“What we really need is to not have to carry the cape of being strong when true strength is in admitting when we need help,” said Gipson-Willis.

To destigmatize the trauma, there is work to be done by the community and by individuals.

For the community, she says that community health centers need to ensure that they are speaking to the needs of African Americans by having clinicians that are more representative.

As for individuals:

“Reach out. Often times, people are more pleasantly surprised at other people’s response versus what they created in their head as to what would happen if they do reach out,” said Gipson-Willis.

If you are in need of mental health services, resources are available here. You can call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255, or visit their website.

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