e-book In and Out of Our Right Minds: The Mental Health of African American Women

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Diane R. Diane Brown , Verna Keith. African American women have commonly been portrayed as "pillars" of their communities—resilient mothers, sisters, wives, and grandmothers who remain steadfast in the face of all adversities.

In and Out of Our Right Minds

While these portrayals imply that African American women have few psychological problems, the scientific literature and demographic data present a different picture. Fortunately, you came to the right place to learn about what mental health conditions are and how to access treatments and supports. In the African American community, family, community and spiritual beliefs tend to be great sources of strength and support.

However, research has found that many African Americans rely on faith, family and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though medical or therapeutic treatment may be necessary.

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Faith and spirituality can help in the recovery process but should not be the only option you pursue. If spirituality is an important part of your life, your spiritual practices can be a strong part of your treatment plan. Your spiritual leaders and faith community can provide support and reduce isolation. Be aware that sometimes faith communities can be a source of distress and stigma if they are misinformed about mental health or do not know how to support families dealing with these conditions.

Do rely on your family, community and faith for support, but you might also need to seek professional help.

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  • Here are some reasons why. Conscious or unconscious bias from providers and lack of cultural competence result in misdiagnosis and poorer quality of care for African Americans. African Americans, especially women, are more likely to experience and mention physical symptoms related to mental health problems.

    For example, you may describe bodily aches and pains when talking about depression. A health care provider who is not culturally competent might not recognize these as symptoms of a mental health condition.

    Additionally, men are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders or PTSD. Members of minority communities often experience bias and mistrust in health care settings. This often leads to delays in seeking care.

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    The section below gives ideas on how to find the right provider for you. Unfortunately, research has shown lack of cultural competence in mental health care. This results in misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. African Americans and other multicultural communities tend to receive poorer quality of care. While we recommend you go directly to a mental health professional because this is their area of expertise, if you do not feel comfortable right away, a primary care doctor is a great place to start.

    You Can’t “Pray Away” a Mental Health Condition | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

    I was taking up space, eating food, needing clothes, needing resources that our family really did not have. I knew how hard it was for my mother to find low-income housing. I knew how hard it was for her to keep three constantly growing kids clothed and fed. And I knew how hard it was to keep feeling the shame of living in poverty and the sorrow of feeling like a burden on my family.

    Mental Health in the Black Community

    So I seriously thought about ending my life. I was 8 years old. Depression has been a constant part of my life since then.

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    Why add another stigmatized identity? Why give people another reason to doubt my capability? Why threaten my professional reputation? Why be vulnerable? As a community, some of us either suffer in silence or keep our mental health issues between us and the Lord.

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    But our silence is killing us. Health disparities that include higher rates of some cancers, diabetes, hypertension, obesity , and other serious illnesses among African-Americans lead to premature deaths. Physical conditions can often be related to untreated mental health issues. In the days after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in August , the St.

    Louis suburb erupted in protests. Demonstrators and police clashed. Military tanks rumbled down streets. Even after the war zone atmosphere subsided, people were left reeling. Louis clinical psychologist Marva Robinson, Psy. Many of the residents in Ferguson experienced trauma and mental distress, according to a study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

    Black residents of Ferguson who participated in the study had significantly higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression than white residents in the months after protests. The tragedy in Ferguson—and the psychological toll it took on people there—was at once an extreme example and a microcosm of the damaging effects of institutionalized racism in this country. The same conditions that are present there exist across the nation, Robinson says, and this race-based trauma that black people often encounter leaves them susceptible to mental health conditions and in need of treatment.

    Black people are 10 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites, according to the U. Research demonstrates that racism can adversely affect mental health in direct and indirect ways. It can inflict psychological trauma, create unfavorable socioeconomic conditions that increase the risk of psychiatric disorders by as much as threefold, and lead to negative feelings of self-worth and wellbeing.

    Even facing a heightened risk of mental health issues, many of us don't seek treatment. Research shows that as many as two thirds of people with depression don't get treated , and that black people are less likely to get treatment than non-Hispanic whites.