Howard University Multicultural Media Academy in partnership with the Dow Jones News Fund

Mental health stigma in minority communities: What it is, what it can lead to, and how to combat it

By Sumaya Abdel-Motagaly

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health illnesses have been on the rise. Phycologists have been able to transition to online environments, offering therapy over platforms such as Zoom. While this might seem like a great way to get more people to seek mental health help–they don’t even have to step outside of their homes to do so–with majority of therapists in the United States being white, many minorities find it hard to relate to them, and are even discouraged by members in their communities from doing so.

“No matter the level of education or certification of a certain therapist, I believe that there are some real world experiences from the lives of minorities that cannot be taught from a textbook or lecture,” said recent high school graduate, Maryam Higazi. Describing mental health in minority communities as “looked down upon,” she believes that “there is still much progress to be made.”

There have always been health disparities among colored groups, especially the African-American community, and unfortunately mental health is not exempt. “It [health inequality] is presented as a mystery, but I think of it as a mystery hiding in plain sight,” said Linda Villarosa, the author of several books and contributing journalist to The New York Times. 

Those who seek mental help often come from households with higher incomes, and those who do not, come from households with lower incomes. As Dr. Shane Perault, a clinical psychologist stated, “Mental health is often reserved for the elite class.” Race also plays a factor in delayment of mental health resources. Minorities, racial and ethinic, are more likely to avert or waive mental support and treatment. 

This is most likely related to the mental health stigma that many cultural groups face. An individual with a mental illness is usually seen as “crazy” and since mental health, generally, does not cause any physical harm, many see no reason to take action and invest in costly treatment. Editor at The Washington Post, Monica Norton, also mentioned that “because of the historical mistreatment of people of color by medical professionals” has led to a mistrust amongst the groups. 

It’s important to address the stigma regarding mental health, as it prevents many from receiving help, which can be detrimental. “If you have an untreated mental health problem, it will play itself out in [traumatic] ways,” said Dr. Shane. “You can’t treat what you don’t assess and understand.” Contrary to many beliefs, mental health over time will not dissipate; it’s not a phase. Unaddressed mental health will continue to worsen and can lead to physical effects and even injuries. 

Nevertheless, mental health is critical and should be treated the same as physical health. It’s important to reach out to a trusted friend or adult. As Dr. Tyish Brown Hall, a clinician psychologist and an associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences mentioned, “Most of us have one person we trust, I would say reach out to them.” She also emphasized the importance of helping those you love who are struggling mentaly. “Help them find help.”

If you or a friend are in need of urgent mental help or are experiencing any suicidal thoughts and actions, please reach out.  National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255

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