This article will dispel common misconceptions about Black mental health care and inform our community about mental health disorders and treatment.
A mass shooting is defined as having four or more victims killed or wounded. In 2023, there have been more than 130 mass shootings so far. Following a mass shooting, thoughts and prayers are often followed by a plea to increase support for individuals with mental illness. Only three to five percent of violent acts in the community are attributed to people with a mental illness.
The majority of the estimated 58 million people in the United States living with mental illness are never violent. People living with mental health disorders are more likely to be crime victims.
Public messages linking violence and mental illness are stigmatizing and discourage people living with a mental health disorder from seeking treatment. Further, in the media, people with mental illnesses are often portrayed as comical images or violent. It can negatively impact self-esteem, help-seeking behaviors, medication adherence, and overall recovery.
Sixteen percent of Black Americans are living with a mental illness, and 22 percent of those individuals have a serious mental illness. Yet, 70 percent of Black people with a mental health disorders do not receive mental health treatment. Ninety percent of Black people over age 12 living with a substance use disorder do not receive treatment.
Black Americans are less likely than their White counterparts to die from suicide at any age. However, Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide, a number that has been increasing in recent years. Between 1991 to 2019, self-reported suicide attempts rose nearly 80 percent among Black adolescents, while the number of attempts did not significantly change among individuals of other races and ethnicities.
Black people are more often misdiagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to White people with similar symptoms. In addition, they are offered therapy and medication at lower rates.
Less than four percent of psychiatrists in the U.S. and less than two percent of members of the American Psychological Association identify as Black. Limited diversity within mental health professionals is a barrier to mental health care.
Tobacco-related disorders are a factor in the top health conditions causing the death of Black Americans. As a result of large marketing campaigns, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are preferred in Black communities.
There are more than 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, and many cause cell damage and chronic inflammation. Menthol allows for deeper inhalation and increases the amount of nicotine absorbed. In 2009, flavored additives were banned but menthol remained legal. Banning menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars will improve Black health outcomes.
Gun violence is more likely to be associated with suicide rather than homicide. The majority of suicides in the U.S. involve a firearm. Black and Hispanic Americans accounted for the greatest increases in gun suicide rates from 2020 to 2021. A gun in a household increases the risk of suicide for everyone living in the household.
Black people with mental health conditions are more likely to be in jail or prison than people of other races. One of out of five people in jail or prison have a diagnosable mental health condition.
The rate of opioid overdose among Blacks is less than half of that for White Americans.
There are many advocacy organizations encouraging Black people to seek mental health treatment by changing the perception of mental illness.
You are not alone. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call 988.
Dr. Dionne Hart is board-certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. She is an adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Mayo Clinic. In 2014, Dr. Hart was named Minnesota Psychiatrist of the Year. In 2017 she received the National Alliance on Mental Illness Exemplary Psychiatrist Award.
Dr. Hart is an American Psychiatric Association delegate to the American Medical Association and a member of the Minnesota Medical Association’s (NMA) Board of Trustees. Dr. Hart is the Region 4 chairperson of the NMA’s Board of Trustees and the president of the Minnesota Association of African American Physicians. In 2020, Minnesota Physician journal named her one of the 100 most influential healthcare leaders in Minnesota. Twitter/Instagram: @lildocd.
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