Please note: I will not tolerate any messages of hate or racism within the comments against black communities (or other POC’s). Please be kind, respectful, and think before you type.
By Dawn-Maria France
Trying to unpick mental health in black communities is complex. I’ve been an unofficial mental health advocate and a writer on mental health issues for a long time. In my own way, I’ve tried to maintain a narrative about mental health issues and engage in conversation about this pressing issue.
Each year in England, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem of some kind. 1 in 6 people report experiencing common mental health problems such as anxiety or depression in any given week. Given the pandemic, with lock-down, fear, bereavement, loss of jobs, income, and relationship breakdowns – our mental health is only likely to worsen.
It’s great to see celebrities raising awareness about mental health issues, but it’s still an issue that is hardly ever spoken about in friendship groups or in the work environment. Many people who experience mental health problems still hide away as if it were a dirty secret. And sadly this is even more prevalent within black communities.
The issue with race and mental health.
Males within black communities are far more likely to be diagnosed with severe mental health problems than members of white groups. They’re also far more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
A number of reasons could explain the shameful number of black males who are sectioned with complex mental health issues. Stereotyping, cultural barriers, unconscious bias, racism, and institutional racism all play their part. Stereotypes of black people, especially black males, in society and in the media depict them as being more threatening and aggressive than white people. Such unfair, shocking racist racial stereotypes go some way to explain why so many of our black men are sectioned.
When I was younger, I visited a black male friend who had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The health worker advised me not to visit him, but I went anyway. Through our conversation, I discovered a man who was depressed because of the breakdown of his relationship. It would be several years before his diagnosis of a personality disorder was wrong. By this time he’d become accustomed to his prescription drugs which led to unemployment. Sadly, he’s since passed away.
“How many more black men have been misdiagnosed due to unconscious bias, racism or stereotyping?“
Also, adding to this issue is the black communities treat mental health. They barely speak of it, if at all. It’s stigmatized in general society in general but is largely avoided within black communities. This, coupled with the need for men to ‘be men’, which somehow translates to remaining silent about mental health. Many are wary of how people in authority perceive them, and instead of saying ‘I need help’, they self-medicate.
There’s also the belief that church and God can cure all illnesses. This is particularly true among the older generations. An older black person whom I had come to love was clearly struggling with depression. When I suggested they get support, they explained that they didn’t trust the authorities, and God would provide a solution. They consequently spent the majority of their life struggling.
Then there’s Racism.
There’s institutional and workplace racism. This is when colleagues and even managers play passive-aggressive games with some black employees. Often this appears in many forms but ultimately pushes staff toward workplace stress.
“It’s so hard to navigate a racist society when you’re proud to be black British. This is your home, your country, and a place you love. All you want to do is live your life away from hate and stereotypes.”
For me, it’s not that black people are more vulnerable to mental health problems than white people are. It’s that black people have to deal with everyday casual racism, stereotypes, and systemic racism. All while trying to go about their day-to-day life. With all that pressure placed on their shoulders, something would have to give: and that is often their mental health.
When a black person does go into the mental health system, they’re often met with the same issues that brought them there in the first instance; Stereotypes. If it’s a black man, he must be aggressive. If it’s a black woman, she must fit the angry black woman stereotype. Why not leave the stereotypes at the door and be professional? Instead, take into account that everyone is different. Look at the individual’s symptoms and what they personally require.
A better understanding of black people’s experience is needed. We need to discuss why so many of our black men and women are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
If you or anyone you know is impacted by the issues discussed in this article, please see the following sources.
- SANE Mental Health
- The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network
About Dawn-Maria France.
Dawn-Maria France is the Editor-in-chief of news-led women’s magazine Yorkshire Women’s Life. She is an award-winning and accomplished journalists, children’s author and broadcaster, who is passionate about women’s rights, equality and diversity. She is a broadcasting veteran with experience on BBC TV, Sky and on Radio.
Dawn-Maria France children’s picture-book The Adventures of Jenny and Philip: We All Need Friends is out now.