Cultural Factors Explain Mental Health Taboo among African-Americans

By Victoria Clark

Mental Health is a problem that can affect any and everyone but remains less acknowledged in the Black community. In 2017, suicides in African-American children increased twice as much as White children, according to the U.S. News and World Report. Rylan Hagan, an 11-year-old African-American boy, killed himself in the District of Columbia in November 2017 and Gabriel Taye, an 8-year-old African-American boy, committed suicide in January 2017. Both were described as a shining light in the world and their suicides were completely unexpected. Their families did not know that either child was battling a mental illness.

African-Americans have less access to care when it comes to Mental Health. One in three African- Americans receive or seek treatment for mental illnesses, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Another 11-percent of African-Americans are not covered with health insurance coverage for therapy, and local experts say cultural barriers affect the type and quality of care.

“We don’t have these conversations enough. We often overlook it [Mental Health] in different communities of color… it’s seen as a taboo topic,” said Chantel Grant, the Associate Director of the Department of Counseling and Wellness at Xavier. As September was Suicide Prevention Month, Xavier University of Louisiana professionals sought to engage the community on Mental Health during a discussion held on Sept. 25, 2018.

This cultural barrier causes Mental Health to be a hard topic to address, young adults say. This disconnect can shape how others view Mental Health based on the way they grew up. Not only is Mental Health ignored as a factor in Black children’s well-being, it can cause more harm by not being treated. Ignorance of mental illnesses in the Black community is passed down at a young age. Even controversial Rapper Kanye West acknowledged that the Black community does not take Mental Health seriously.

“I would think it’s because we are taught to be strong,” said Kyrah Felder, 19, a Computer Science Major said. “A lot of Black people are religious so mental problems can also be seen as the work of the devil which may not necessarily take you to a doctor in order to fix that,” Felder explained.

The stereotype that Mental Health is insignificant in the Black community is one that is taught through generations, but breaking the stigma is still possible and needed, local experts said. Black cultural traditions and beliefs can cause misdiagnoses. Experts say to address this stigma, there is a need to increase the amount of Black people in the Psychology Profession.

A 2017 study by the American Psychological Association showed that African-Americans are often diagnosed with Schizophrenia rather than mood disorders compared to Whites who have similar symptoms. The study noted that White physicians are 23-percent more likely to have miss the cues and signs from Black patients and are 33-percent less engaged in patient-centered communication with African-American patients than with White patients.

“There’s been a recent call for more African-American Psychologists because there is definitely a health disparity in mental illness when it comes to African-Americans,” said Thomas Maestri, a Clinical Assistant Professor at Xavier.

Because there is a cultural barrier between people of color and Mental Health providers, breaking the stigma will not be easy to do, but Lakeisha Williams, a Clinical Assistant Professor at Xavier, explained that embracing the fact that Mental Health is common would be a start for those who view it as a shame.

“Mental Health affects everyone… it does not discriminate anyone. We all deal with situations, stress, so many things that can affect us mentally,” Williams said.

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