I started the Dark Tales Project to share my battle with mental illness, while offering a platform for others to do the same, all of which hopefully helps push back on the stigma of mental illness. Yet we cannot do that without acknowledging the different circumstances faced by people of color when it comes to mental health care.
We are at a moment when all of us must re-examine our society’s relationship with communities of color and must do our part to fight for equality. And as I looked through the research surrounding African-American access to mental health treatment, I was blown away by how the story started out so similar, yet ended so differently.
For example, some of the initial barriers to treatment are the same faced by all of us who struggle. People of color are hesitant to open up about their struggles, too burdened by the stigma that mental illness is a weakness, or that something like depression is just “the blues” and they should just deal with it. This is especially true in communities of color with strong family or religious ties. Some may even view it as a weakness in their faith.
Yet once those initial barriers are overcome there are systemic barriers that lead to distrust of the medical community among people of color. Too often, the ailments of some are dismissed merely because of the color of their skin, as if the differences of our bodies aren’t only ever skin deep. One thread I found, for example, detailed a woman of color who was sent home after a C-Section without pain medication. Perhaps this type of racism is one of the reasons that only 30 percent of those in the African-American community receive mental health treatment, as opposed to the U.S. average, which is 43 percent. When I seek treatment, there is no skepticism of my requests, no doubt about my intent. Unfortunately, that is not universally true.
The demons of mental illness known no limitations when it comes to race. Yet the demons of our systemic racism, demons which are wholly our making, target communities of color, exacerbating the demons of mental illness that some are already fighting. We need to build bridges to the proper care and treatment for those individuals. We need to strengthen our bonds, so that everyone knows, regardless of the color of their skin, that it is okay to not be okay. And that if they are fighting the demons of mental illness, if they are writing their own dark tale, they don’t have to be alone.
Sources: Barriers to Mental Health Care Access in an African American Population; Hines-Martin, et. al; 2003.