Whenever I've talked to my parents about having anxiety, they would always tell me to pray about it or bring it to Jesus. "God will handle it," my Mom would always say. Like many black parents, they believed anxiety and depression were easily solved through prayer. When my anxiety attacks got worse, and prayer still was not calming my rapid beating heart, I knew there had to be another way.
Mental illness has always been a stigma in the black community. Our parents were taught that they had to be tough and resilient in order to overcome the blatant racism the faced. Additionally, education on mental health was rarely accessible. Luckily for our generation, it is not as hard as it once was to discuss it with our peers.
According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience psychological distress such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide than non-Hispanic whites. In recent years, more African Americans have been diagnosed with PTSD due, in part to the constant coverage of black death in the media and the acquittal of their white perpetrators. Seeing the death of people that look like you, can have a detrimental effect on your psyche (which is why I urge people to refrain from over-watching the news). The stories mostly involve acts of violence or some form of injustice towards people of color.
So why aren't we seeking help as often?
Oftentimes, black people are unaware that they even suffer from depression or anxiety. They are unable to recognize the signs or symptoms because these things weren’t taught to them early on. This is likely due to lack of information surrounding mental health that is available to black communities. We need more seminars and programs for both youth and even adults.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness known as NAMI stated:
“In the African-American community, family, community and spiritual beliefs tend to be great sources of strength and support. However, research has found that many African-Americans rely on faith, family, and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though medical and/or therapeutic may be necessary.”
The black community is more open to seeking help from institutions they trust, which is why the Black church has been a form of refuge for most. In some religions (Catholic and Baptist), praying away the problem has been the only advice offered to their congregation. While prayer is a powerful form of healing to some, the reality is that these mental health issues are needing serious medical treatment and in some cases, outpatient programs to effectively assess the problem.
The Mental Health of America reported that less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members are Black/African American; meaning that most of these mental health care practitioners are not culturally competent enough to treat specific issues related to the black experience. This is another reason the black community isn't seeking professional help as often. When trying to find professional help, it's always best to do research to find a qualified practitioner in your area that you would be comfortable with.
It will take honest and open dialogue among our peers to help encourage more black people to seek help when it comes to mental illness; rather than believing that we can take on the burden alone. Try to look up more programs in your community geared towards mental illness, try therapy, read books surrounding mental illness, or find other therapeutic methods. But by all means, please realize that mental illness is not your fault.
We can’t pray it away any longer, we’ve already tried to.