For the past several years, the Forward Times has published countless articles to shine the light on the important issue of mental illness in the Black community.
The issue of mental illness encompasses a lot of things, from depression to anxiety to thoughts of suicide. What goes through the mind of a person, especially many of our Black youth, that would make them want to harm or kill themselves? What triggers these thoughts and actions?
Is it hereditary? Is it passed down from generation to generation?
Many of these questions continue to be asked by people who are trying to better understand the impact that mental illness is having in the Black community, with hopes that more information, resources, and attention are directed towards addressing this increasing epidemic.
The stigma often surrounding someone suffering from mental illness has served as a setback and has been a major reason why so many people, especially young people, fail to seek help.
Let’s be real! We have all had family members and/or friends who we know has suffered from mental illness, although it was hardly ever referred to as mental illness when we witnessed it.
Be honest! Many people who have suffered from mental illness in the Black community have often been called things like “touched” or “mental” or “special” or “crazy” or “schizo” or worse, while the issue of mental illness is often suppressed and treated as a taboo subject.
As we highlight Mental Health Awareness Month during the month of May, the Forward Times plans to focus on the importance of mental health all month as more African Americans are dealing with mental health issues than ever before, as we plan to discuss the issues of mental health in a four-part series. This week, we will talk about the overall state of mental health.
According to many reports, the state of Texas ranks among the worst states for mental health care.
QuoteWizard by LendingTree analyzed data and found that in Texas:
- 17% of people have a diagnosed mental illness
- 14% with a mental illness were not able to receive care
- 15% of people with a mental illness do not have insurance
Of course, many of those who have no insurance and are not receiving care are Black people. Even with the Affordable Care Act, better known to most as Obamacare, Blacks rank higher than Whites in being uninsured in Texas.
According to Mental Health America, which is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and promoting the overall mental health of all, racism continues to have an impact on the mental health of Black people, and those who are under the poverty line, homeless, incarcerated, or have substance use problems are at higher risk for poor mental health. It is not limited to people with issues that can be observed with the natural eye or those who don’t struggle with socioeconomic issues. Some of the most visibly stable-looking people are suffering from mental illness.
Suicide always seems to be the most impactful and attention-grabbing activity that captures most people’s attention regarding someone who suffered from mental illness, but there is so much more. But suicide is a major issue.
In February of this year, the Forward Times published an article entitled, SUICIDE: We Must Deal with Depression and Mental Illness before We Lose Our Future, highlighting the suicides of 30-year-old former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, who tragically leaped to her death from the 29th-floor terrace of her 60-story Manhattan high-rise, and actress and director Regina King’s only son, Ian Alexander Jr., who committed suicide right after his 26th birthday.
Then in August of last year, the Forward Times published an article entitled, We Can’t Dismiss Mental Illness… IT’S REAL!, where we reported the suicide of 26-year-old former University of Houston (UH) track and field star Cameron Burrell, who was found dead in a parking garage in Houston as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Then in 2018, the Forward Times published another nationally award-winning article entitled, After They’re Gone – Dealing with the Loss of a Loved One to Suicide, telling the tragic story of 17-year-old Ashley Jadine Duncan, who tragically took her own life in 2012 after battling depression.
All these articles, and the stories mentioned, speak to the importance of addressing mental illness before it leads to life-altering decisions and actions that can’t be reversed.
Let’s look at some other key information from Mental Health America.
- Black people living below poverty are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress than those living over 2x the poverty level.
- Adult Blacks are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult whites.
- Blacks are less likely than white people to die from suicide at all ages. However, Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than White teenagers (9.8 percent v. 6.1 percent).
According to a study conducted by Ward, Wiltshire, Detry, and Brown in 2013:
- Black people hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. The participants in this study were not very open to acknowledging psychological problems, but they were somewhat open to seek mental health services.
- Thirty percent of participants reported having a mental illness or receiving treatment for a mental illness
- Black men are particularly concerned about stigma.
- Cohort effects, exposure to mental illness, and increased knowledge of mental illness are factors that could potentially change beliefs about symptoms of mental illness.
- Participants appeared apprehensive about seeking professional help for mental health issues, which is consistent with previous research. However, participants were willing to seek out some form of help.
- Black people are more often diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people with the same symptoms. Additionally, they are offered medication or therapy at the lower rates than the general population.
- Black people are over-represented in our jails and prisons. Black people make up 13 percent of the general U.S. population, but nearly 40 percent of the prison population. In 2016, the imprisonment rate for Black men (2,417 per 100,000 Black male residents) was more than 6 times greater than that for white men (401 per 100,000 white male residents) and the imprisonment rate for Black women (97 per 100,000 Black female residents) was almost double that for white women (49 per 100,000 white female residents). Black people with mental health conditions, specifically those involving psychosis, are more likely to be in jail or prison than people of other races.
- Because less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are Black, some may worry that mental health care practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues.
- Stigma and judgment prevent Black people from seeking treatment for their mental illnesses. Research indicates that Blacks believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. Furthermore, many believe that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family.
Disparities in access to care and treatment for Black people have also persisted over time.
While the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has helped to close the gap in uninsured individuals, 11.5 percent of Black, versus 7.5 percent of white Americans were still uninsured in 2018.
In 2018, 58.2 percent of Black young adults between the ages of 18-25 and 50.1 percent of Black adults between the ages of 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment.
Nearly 90 percent of Black people over the age of 12 with a substance use disorder did NOT receive treatment.
In 2016, 12.3 percent of Black adults who had a doctor’s office or clinic visit over the past year had difficulty getting needed care, tests or treatment compared to 6.8 percent of white adults.
According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which has a mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities, these are some of their reported findings:
- Sixteen percent (4.8 million) of Black people reported having a mental illness, and 22.4 percent of those (1.1 million people) reported a serious mental illness over the past year.
- Serious mental illness (SMI) rose among all ages of Black people between 2008 and 2018.
- Despite rates being less than the overall U.S. population, major depressive episodes increased from 9 percent-10.3 percent in Black youth ages 12-17, 6.1 percent to 9.4 percent in young adults 18-25, and 5.7 percent to 6.3 percent in the 26-49 age range between 2015 and 2018.
- Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts are also rising among Black young adults. While still lower than the overall U.S. population aged 18-25, 9.5 percent (439,000) of Black 18-25-year-olds had serious thoughts of suicide in 2018, compared to 6 percent (277,000) in 2008. 3.6 percent (166,000) made a plan in 2018, compared to 2.1 percent (96,000) in 2008, and 2.4 percent (111,000) made an attempt in 2018, compared to 1.5 percent (70,000) in 2008.
- Binge drinking, smoking (cigarettes and marijuana), illicit drug use and prescription pain reliever misuse are more frequent among Black adults with mental illnesses.
As stated earlier, May is Mental Health Awareness Month and the Forward Times will focus on the importance of mental health each week during the month of May in order to bring more attention and awareness to this very important issue regarding mental health.
If you or someone you know needs mental health information, resources, or advice, please contact:
Of course, you should call 9-1-1 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room or urgent care facility where you can be seen immediately.
National Alliance on Mental Illness
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Crisis Text Line
Text “HELLO” to 741741
The Crisis Text hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the U.S. The Crisis Text Line serves anyone, in any type of crisis, connecting them with a crisis counselor who can provide support and information. Text MHA to 741741 and you’ll be connected to a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line provides free, text-based support 24/7.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Use Lifeline Chat on the web
The Lifeline is a free, confidential crisis service that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Lifeline connects people to the nearest crisis center in the Lifeline national network. These centers provide crisis counseling and mental health referrals.
Veterans Crisis Line
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 or text to 838255
Use Veterans Crisis Chat on the web
The Veterans Crisis Line is a free, confidential resource that connects veterans 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a trained responder. The service is available to all veterans, even if they are not registered with the VA or enrolled in VA healthcare.
Disaster Distress Helpline
Call or text 1-800-985-5990
The disaster distress helpline provides immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. The helpline is free, multilingual, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.