On average, White Americans are two times more likely to go to counseling than their African American counterparts (source). This disparity isn’t only because African Americans believe mental health services are expensive or costly, either. There is a stigma associated with going to therapy in the black community. People view you as “crazy” or “weak” if you aren’t able to handle issues that may arise in your life. Monnica T. Williams, a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, cited a study that found “that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles.” That same study also found that a fourth of those consumers believed that discussing mental illness would not even be appropriate among family. If you can’t go to a counselor about a crippling depression and you can’t talk to your family about it, what can you do?
While studying this topic, I found an awesome video created by the National Black Programming Consortium; it created a beautifully accurate picture of the stigma associated with counseling in the black community.
In my 21 years of life, I can attest to this stigma being alive and prevalent in the communities in which I’ve lived.
Growing up, I was taught that if you couldn’t handle a problem by yourself, with the help of your family, or through the church, then you and your family were weak. This thought process wasn’t explictly stated, but it was confirmed by reactions to hearing someone you knew had gone to counseling. You never wanted to be that “crazy” guy who went to counseling, so if you did have an issue, you just sucked it up and kept it moving until it went away. This thought process continued well into college and by my 3rd year, it died out.
I’d say there needs to be a change in the culture. This is something that is detrimental to the black community and must be addressed. The stigma needs to die and the only way to kill it is through education. Mental health education will clear up any misconceptions individuals may have and, in turn, end the stigma. The black community must know that going to counseling does not make you a “weak” or “crazy” person, but, in fact, makes you brave and strong for wanting to get real help.