Why it’s important for black communities to talk about mental health.

“It’s so hard to navigate a racist society when you’re proud to be part of the black community in Britain.”

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.

Thank you.


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.
  • Mind.org.uk
  • 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.

64 comments

  1. Racial discrimination in the United States has deep historical roots and, in fact, is the same age as the country. The society, founded by white people, has always had a negative attitude towards people with a different skin color: Indians – the native inhabitants of America, and blacks.

  2. Sectioned means to be forcefully placed into a psychiatric treatment facility by law. It means someone has deemed you so unwell that they take your health into their own hands if that makes sense. It’s one of my biggest fears and it almost happened last year only my partner fought for me to stay at home.

  3. I am so sorry your friend passed away from this issue. It is really important that this information gets shared in this world. I wish more people were educated on racism and mental health.

  4. Excellent insights- thanks so much for sharing. This is of particular value for families with adolescents as mental health issues should be detected as early as possible.

  5. Being ‘sectioned’ means being kept in hospital involuntarily. It’s only used in cases where someone is deemed to be of danger to themselves or other people. A number of healthcare professionals have to agree that the person needs to be kept in hospital. The legislation in question is the Mental Health Act which, I believe, is currently under review in the UK

  6. Thank you so much for this incredibly important post. It’s not enough that we address mental health and illness but also the discrimination and racism that exists within the services.

  7. This is an important post. Thanks for sharing this.

    I am from the US and when the writer is referring to sectioned, what does that mean? I am unfamiliar with that term in regards to health or mental health.

  8. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I would love to feature your experience as an Hispanic in regards to mental health and racism if you’re up for it.

  9. The UK and Ireland are not except from racism and, in fact, I would say it’s largely covered up here. It’s something I find myself wanting to talk about more but as a white person, I feel it’s best left to those in the POC community.
    Thank you so much for reading and ommenting.

  10. Thank you so much for reading and commenting Jenny. I’m happy to say that Dawn-Maria will be guesting a lot more in relation to race and mental health. She has so much lived experience and i am more than happy to have her voice within my blog. I really want to include more POC & LGBTQ+ voices on my blog. Mental health is not just a white, privileged problem!

  11. I feel terrible too, and for those over here in the UK and NI where racism is very much still alive. My parents are very racist and as much as I try to call them out on it, it’s so difficult and always ends in an argument about ‘Us V them’ and it’s just disgusting. If I told you half the things they say you would be ashamed to be white.

  12. Mental health is so important but not all are aware or open about it. Thank you for sharing this!

  13. Mental health is important nowadays, yes it is affecting lof people of color. That is more important.

  14. It can really go a long way, especially for the youth. It can really make all the difference.

  15. It is SO important to talk about mental health, especially within the black community. Mental health issues should not be such a stigma.

  16. This is such an important issue. We all carry implicit bias, and systemic racism is inescapable. More articles like this can help start the process of self-reflection and action to become anti-racist. Hopefully we can listen more and work together for change. It’s long overdue.

  17. Glad you shared very important and helpful information with us..found it so useful and interesting one indeed…great work though…

  18. I feel really bad what is going on in USA right now. Racism is everywhere and I believe that yes even black community people go through many things and they should be counseled on it as well!

  19. I’ve been seeing articles about mental health lately, but this is the first time that I’ve read an article focusing on black communities. The stats are definitely alarming.

  20. Mental health is quite important and taking care of it is a must. Thank you for talking about this topic that so many needs to open up. I hope a lot of people read this and realized something.

  21. Thank you for shedding light on such an important topic! Hopefully there is a massive cultural shift for the black community in the coming years, and these things begin to change.

  22. Having an unconscious bias to men from black communities is such a sad reality and it continues to break my heart to learn that professionals continue to mis diagnose illness just because someone is from an ethnic minority.

  23. I really enjoyed reading your perspective on this topic. More needs to be done in the African American community.

  24. In my opinion mental health crosses all races I am Hispanic and in my community there is mental health issues too not to mention inequality. If we start looking ourselves as humans and for commonalities and being less race driven we could help more than just focusing on race.

  25. It’s hard believe we still have racial problems in this country. Young black should not have to be afraid of the police or anyone. It’s shameful.

  26. Mental health has always been a huge stigma no matter what your race is. I can see how the black communities are often left out when it comes to treating it. It is sad because they too deserve to get the treatment they deserve. Making everyone aware of the mental health crisis centers in your area is also important. Our local mental health has clinics to help low-income individuals to get access to therapists and doctors that are trained to treat mental health disorders. They have a sliding scale fee based upon your income.

    I have autoimmune disorders, so I often times suffer from depression and anxiety. The one thing that I have focused on the last several years, was to stay on top of my own mental health. If it isn’t where I need it to be, I can’t be the best version of myself to care for my ailments or my kids.

    Plus, leaving depression untreated can have dire consequences too.

  27. I am so glad you are raising awareness about mental health in black communities. I honestly didn’t know that the mental health system would not treat everyone as an individual. It’s sad and terrible that the black community is met with stereotypes. It is my hope that one day people can just be people and be kind to one another.

  28. Systemic racism is in the bones of every structure in society here in the U.S. too, and it has the added problem of police brutality and the police murdering Black men and women when they are called out for a mental health wellness check. The healthcare system is also structurally racist with disparities between health outcomes and treatment between Black and White people. There is so much to do but it starts with awareness (I have written about this on my Advocacy Page on my site) and unpick how we can help and work for change. The UK has much work to do and we can all benefit from talking about the issues that many don’t want to acknowledge.

  29. The statistics are alarming. Regardless of color, or race, I think mental health is something we should all be aware of. We should all be talking about this.

  30. This is such an important topic right now to raise awareness. I hadn’t realized all the issues facing the black community until recently.

  31. I think that what is happening at the moment is a wake up call to open everyone’s eyes about systemic racism and how wrong it is to assume something about a person before even meeting them, based on their gender, skin color or appearance.

  32. Mental health is something that all communities need to talk about. I wasn’t aware of the issues in the black community before reading this.

  33. Thank you so much for sharing this amazing guest post. And to Dawn-Maria for writing it! Two VERY important topics that I feel like we’re talking more openly about separately but not together. This has opened my eyes a lot x

  34. I think this is a wonderful post and I appreciate your sharing as mental health is a serious issue for all races. I know many people that have suffered from mental health issues and talking about it and educating others is a way to bring light to the topic and ultimately it is how you will make the difference as well as help to bring forth the chances needed that help those in need. God Bless and thank you for sharing 🙂

  35. I feel awful for POC in the US right now. I never realized how racist my country was, which of course is because I am privileged with white skin. I try really hard to use my privilege to fight for those who are unable to fight, but I can imagine positive mental health can be hard to maintain in these very dark times.

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