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Mental Health Stigma within the African-American Community

By July 1, 2013Blogs

The sad truth is that mental health services are underutilized and shunned upon in many cultural minority groups. As an African-American, the reason why I got into the mental health field was because a close friend took his own life after a horrible break up. I remember feeling helpless, wishing he confided in me more than he did. As cliché as it sounds, many of us get into this field under the single notion to ‘help’ others; and I wasn’t any different. His death was significant in my life and it ultimately changed my career path. I hoped to be a referral in the community, a friend among friends, who those in crisis could confide in without shame.
In reality, I wasn’t aware of any African-American therapist in my community. The absence of ethnically diverse therapists and lack of cultural awareness within the mental health community are significant reasons why African-Americans are reluctant to seek professional treatment. “Unfortunately, the mental health system has not kept pace with the diverse needs of racial and ethnic minorities… the system has neglected to incorporate understanding histories, traditions, beliefs, and value systems of culturally diverse groups” (
Like my friend who resorted to suicide rather than seeking treatment, many African-Americans are reluctant to utilize mental health services because of the shame associated with it. African-Americans find it taboo, embarrassing, or think of themselves as ‘crazy’ and a failure for seeking treatment. Another major concern for many African-Americans is the cost associated with treatment. Thus, seeking spiritual guidance and support becomes the alternative that is not only easily accessible, it’s free.  African-Americans also replace professional therapy with other forums, such as the barber shop, beauty salon, or a friend’s front porch. Although social support is necessary to our wellbeing, evidence-based treatment is vital to our mental health, especially in times of crises.
Unfortunately, with the lack of awareness, the shame associated with therapy, and the shortage of culturally trained professionals, it’s no wonder why mental health services are underutilized and shunned upon by many minority groups. The most significant factor to reducing stigma of mental health services within the African-American community is by providing culturally competent services that are easily accessible and cost-efficient. Another way to diminish stigma involves labeling services with less daunting names. For example, replacing ‘Group Therapy’ with “Let’s Chat”. If we can all think outside the box and creatively tailor mental health services with cultural diversity in mind, then we’ll be able to reach more diverse groups needing our help. Suicide in minority groups can be prevented if we continually strive to raise awareness while removing the stigma.