For many blacks, all of this is compounded by the lack of access to mental health services in our communities. According to a 2018 report by the American Psychological Association's Center for Workforce Studies, only 4 percent of therapists are African American while about 14 percent of the population are black.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, an Atlanta-based African American clinical psychologist, said racism was an underlying factor. In 2014 she started a blog called Therapy for Black Girls, where black women can talk about their mental health. She has since made a podcast. Other churches, she told me in a telephone interview, “have had a much longer history of getting help. For us it is still a foreign word. "
Being transparent about one's struggles can help alleviate the stigma. In a recent interview published in Self Magazine, actress Taraji P. Henson discussed her struggles with depression and the challenges of sharing mental health issues with the public. "I hope that one day we can all be free to talk about mental health and seek help," she said. To help, she founded the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, named after her father who dealt with mental health problems after the Vietnam War.
And hip-hop artist Jay-Z spoke about therapy in an interview with the editor of the New York Times in 2017 and on CNN in 2018. “As you grow, you realize the ridiculousness of the stigma attached. He said, suggesting that therapy should be offered in schools.
Despite these efforts to open up dialogue on black mental health, it can still be a struggle. When R&B artist Summer Walker told fans last fall that she was suffering from social anxiety, she was criticized. The comments reminded me of the many times I tried to open up about my fear to those around me that were met with rejection or cold.
The only way to really end the stigma of mental illness is to offer empathy and comfort to those around you who may need help. It is important that we not just start the conversation, but continue it, taking action seeking treatment. The myth of the strong black man and woman has convinced many of us that even when we suffer, we are unbreakable. This affects both how we process our trauma and how we communicate about it with others.
"The biggest barrier is culture," Dr. Fletcher. "Culture is the most resistant aspect to change."