Mental Health and The Black Community

903439_525008154243922_562500589_o (1) (1) (1)The use of professional mental health resources is growing in the Black community. Traditionally this was considered a sign of weakness and the inability to handle your business. It was also frowned upon and looked at as a family betrayal, a disclosing of family secrets and information. You were digging up dirt, dirt that was better left buried. Besides, It wasn’t anyone’s business what went on in your home behind closed doors. It was family business and definitely not to be shared with outsiders. Dealing and coping with family dysfunction was a family matter and mental health professionals eyed with suspicion. If someone decided to seek treatment, they grilled the clinician. Here are some of the questions potential clients asked clinicians. Why are you asking me all of these questions? Who put you up to this? What is my information being used for? Will you share my information with my family or others? Sometimes they were asked outright, what business is it of yours?

There is historical justification for suspicion. Medical Institutions and social services agencies have a reputation for being other than professional and trustworthy when it comes to Blacks, people of color and the poor. Blacks have a history of being treated as intellectual inferiors, children incapable of understanding and without respect. Blacks were literally told to sign documents without benefit of reading and threatened or documented as difficult. Some Blacks did not question these so-called authority figures. Some believed these persons “knew better” or could possibly threaten their livelihoods or freedom. Records and malpractices are documented in such books as Medical Apartheid, The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present By Harriet A. Washington and Bad Blood The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment -A Tragedy Of Race and Medicine By James H. Jones.

The old mythology, stigma, suspicion and shame have changed along with attitudes. Blacks are proactive in their healthcare and informed. The Black community is now recognizing the value and need of this much needed service. In addition, the face of mental health is changing as more Blacks and students of color enter this field. Blacks and people of color are also seeking out clinicians of color. Persons  who they feel can relate, identify with them and their experiences.

We do ourselves a service to have support teams in place. Individuals we respect and trust. Persons we share our thoughts and concerns with, in a safe and supportive environment.These individuals can be but are not exclusive to mental professionals. For example, a close friend, clergy, support group or nationally certified or accredited hotline. Remember, to choose wisely! Some issues and behaviors require a mental health trained professional. If you believe this is the case ask your family physician for a referral.

Every individual seeking treatment or mandated to seek treatment should be prepared with questions for the clinician. It is the patients right and responsibility as a service to themselves, to actively participate in their care. The job of the therapist is not to dictate, deliver monologues nor make decisions for clients.The job of the clinician is to assist clients in achieving his or her goals. You have a right and responsibility to seek out the best care. If you are uncomfortable with your clinician, you have a right to seek out a new clinician. Your wellness depends on the client and clinician communication and partnership. Please read Mental Health Conditions below.

© copyright 2011/2015  Lorraine Currelley. All Rights Reserved.

Lorraine Currelley, MS, MHC, CT

National Alliance for Mental Illness

What is a mental health condition? A mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood may affect and his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.

Recovery, including meaningful roles in social life, school and work, is possible, especially when you start treatment early and play a strong role in your own recovery process.

A mental health condition isn’t the result of one event. Research suggests multiple, interlinking causes. Genetics, environment and lifestyle combine to influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical processes and circuits as well as basic brain structure may play a role too.

Recovery and Wellness
What are some of the statistics and facts for mental health conditions? 1 in 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. 1 in 20 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. In addition to the person directly experiencing by a mental illness, family, friends and communities are also affected. 50% of mental health conditions begin by age 14 and 75% of mental health conditions develop by age 24. The normal personality and behavior changes of adolescence may mimic or mask symptoms of a mental health condition. Early engagement and support are crucial to improving outcomes and increasing the promise of recovery.  – See more at:

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The Difficulty in Recognizing PTSD in Black Women

“Black women, in particular, are generally perceived to be stronger than most other groups. It’s a kind of stereotype that so many of us have bought into. “Never let them see you cry or sweat,” used to be my mantra. Nevermind that I needed to cry, that my heart was about as soft as they come, that my sensitivity was part of who I was authentically and was meant to be gift not the curse I’d made it out to be; that I’d allowed people to tell me it was. Janie, in Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Are Watching God” explained it like this: “Black women are the mules of the world.” Mules carry everything on their backs. As much as folks can pile on, a mule will hold it all steady and push that weight along the path. So many of us all too often carry not just our own weights but the weights of others. But because we do so wearing the flyest white coat a la Olivia Pope or huge, albeit fake, smiles, no one believes that we are hurting.”