Although anyone can develop a mental health problem, African Americans sometimes experience more severe forms of mental health conditions due to unmet needs and other barriers. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. African American youth who are exposed to violence are at a greater risk for PTSD by over 25%.1 African Americans are also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence.
In the African American community, people often misunderstand what a mental health condition is and therefore the subject is uncommon. This lack of understanding leads many to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness or a form of punishment. Many African Americans have trouble recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, which leads to them underestimating the effects of mental health conditions. African Americans may also be reluctant to discuss mental health issues and seek treatment because of the shame and stigma still associated with such conditions in their community.2
It is important to find a provider who demonstrates cultural competence - which describes the ability of healthcare systems to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors and taking into account their social, cultural and linguistic needs.3 Unfortunately, research has shown lack of cultural competence in mental health care, which results in misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. When meeting with your provider, ask questions to get a sense of their level of cultural sensitivity, such as whether they have treated other African Americans, received training in cultural competence, and how they plan to take your beliefs and practices into account when suggesting treatment. Learn more about finding the right therapist.
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2. African American Mental Health, NAMI