Mental illness is already highly stigmatized in society, but for the Black community it can be especially hard to discuss and confront.
There tends to be a “greater stigma among African-American culture than among white cultures,” says minister and seminary professor Monica Coleman.
Coleman, who has depression, added that she was once told that being a descendant of slavery should help her overcome her depressive episodes. But that comment just made me feel small and selfish and far worse than before. “I live in Southern California, and many white people will freely reference ‘seeing a therapist’ in normal conversation,” Coleman said. “Black people don’t do that. Seeing a therapist is generally seen as a sign of weakness or a lack of faith.”
Erica R. Williams says that she takes pride in being viewed as a tough Black woman, but added that this very strength has kept her from addressing her mental health issues with others. “I’ve even seen other people experience issues that could only be classified as mental illness go without help. Yes, this ‘strength’ that most Black people wear as a badge of honor is sometimes the same thing that kills us.”
In 2013, a user by the name of LC wrote in a piece for coloredgirlconfidential.com that she grew up believing “Black people don’t go to therapy. With several Southern Baptist preachers just a stone skip away on the family tree, I can vividly remember being told to pray about everything, from forgiveness of sin to skinned knees to hurt feelings.”
Nearly half of all Black people attend a religious service at least once a week, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study — and community members are often encouraged to “pray” about their issues rather than talk them over in therapy.
As more Black people seek higher education, they are more likely to seek mental health help when needed, says Donna Holland Barnes, president of the National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide at Howard University.
“The more educated you are, and the more you understand your disorder, the more you’re likely to get it treated,” Barnes said. “The more educated you are, the more you understand this is a normal part of life.”