Blacks Battle Mental Health Stigma

African-American Community Becomes Proactive

Stacy M. Brown | 7/24/2013, noon
Shhh! We shouldn’t be talking about it.

“Part of breaking the stigma in the black community is promoting open dialogue and peer-support,” he said.

African Americans must also become proactive in alerting others to their illnesses, health care officials said.

Statistics compiled by NAMI show that African Americans are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their Caucasian counterparts. Schizophrenia, for instance, has been over diagnosed in the African-American population.

Also, cultural biases about mental health and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding.

Only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.

African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, said Dr. Kisha Davis, director of community outreach for the Casey Health Institute, an integrative medicine center in Gaithersburg, Md.

“The health care providers they seek may not be aware of this important aspect of the person’s life,” said Davis, a former White House Fellow at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

African Americans also are more likely to seek help though their primary care physician as opposed to accessing specialty care. The community is often at a socio-economic disadvantage in terms of accessing both medical and mental health care, said Amanda Skowron, a clinical psychologist at the Casey Health Institute.

However, there are signs of hope, said Skowron, a former psychologist at the University of Maryland and a member of the American Psychological Association in Northeast Washington, D.C., and the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies in New York.

“There definitely seems to be the feeling that mental health issues are talked about more and the entire issue is beginning to come out of the shadows,” she said.