If you or a friend need urgent assistance, call 911 immediately, or take your friend directly to the emergency room. If you feel it’s safe, stay with your friend, or find someone to stay with them until help arrives.
Race is central to identity and lived experience. It touches much more than skin pigment; it plays a role in our societal norms, values, and traditions. Today, because of the historical enslavement of people from Africa, Black people live in every part of the globe. This dissemination of a large group of people with the same origin is referred to as the African/Black Diaspora. While all Black people are unique, this shared history explains why some experiences are common across the Black community. Although everyone experiences mental health, given the notable history and culture of the Black community in the U.S., it is important to acknowledge the specific strengths, methods of healing, and challenges faced by those who are part of it today. This Roadmap will do just that.
Whether you are Black or want to be more aware of the experiences of Black people, read on to learn more about Black mental health.
Mental health refers to your psychological, cognitive, and emotional wellbeing. Mental health status can be impacted by cultural and societal group identities such as race, ethnicity, religion and social class. Holding multiple marginalized identities puts you at increased risk for discrimination and other forms of oppression, which impact mental health. Focusing on Black mental health allows us to highlight these unique experiences.
It is important to note that the mental health of Black people is not challenging because of that identity itself but because of the systemic issues faced by this community. Because of the enslavement of Black people, racialized oppression, marginalization and large-scale immigration throughout history, Black people live in a diaspora across the globe in and outside of Africa today. Black people are often impacted by racism, discrimination, and prejudice. Many hold more than one marginalized identity and may also experience classism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia. Despite these challenges, there are countless examples of thriving within Black communities across the Diaspora, which we will discuss here.
Black people experience common stressors in everyday life. Consider which of these daily nuisances in the module below impact you the most. Awareness of these stressors can be the first step to resistance and healing. Over time, if not addressed, these can lead to mental health concerns like the ones discussed in the following section. If any of these feel familiar to you, that’s okay — we’ve included tips in this Roadmap for fostering mental wellbeing.
Let’s face it: navigating a Eurocentric world can be difficult. You might feel it is necessary to change important aspects of yourself just to be seen. Doing this repeatedly can make you feel like your authentic self is not good enough.
Do you find yourself giving people the side-eye? This could be due to microaggressions, which are everyday, indirect, and subtle slights directed individuals from a marginalized community. Someone’s comment might be well-intentioned, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t offensive.
Ever feel yourself not doing things you enjoy in public? There is a long list of stereotypes that have been imposed on the Black community which takes away Black people’s individuality. Stereotypes are harmful and can make you worry about being judged.
You might feel anxious when dealing with educational, legal, judicial, health, and/or other systems. These systems have a long history of overlooking and discriminating against Black people. It can be stressful to continuously worry about not being treated fairly or listened to by systems that are meant to support and protect you.
Have you ever caught yourself perpetuating an anti-Black stereotype? Yikes! It is important to question the views you hold about your own racial and cultural group and whether they might be rooted in racism.
When you hold multiple marginalized identities, sometimes it feels like discrimination is all-consuming. Facing multiple systems of oppression (i.e. racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, classism) can leave you feeling hopeless and less trusting.
It can sometimes feel as if society at large questions whether you’re good enough every chance it gets. It’s hard not to let that get to you on some level. You might even believe that you aren’t good enough, which can cause you to avoid opportunities to shine and succeed.
It can be a challenge to open up about your mental health when those around you don’t seem to be having those conversations. The mental health stigma that exists within the Black community can leave you feeling like you’re the only one in need of support.
Black children are often viewed by adults as more aggressive, adult, or sexually aware than their peers. This translates into Black girls being less nurtured, comforted and protected than their peers and Black boys facing more frequent and severe consequences than their peers.
Today in the U.S., more than seven million Black and African American individuals are living with a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Yet, Black people are less likely to seek mental health support. Many Black people have learned to write off symptoms as ordinary or not mental health-related, which stems from a long history of stigma and fear of further discrimination. Understanding the warning signs of a mental health concern can help you find the appropriate care before symptoms get worse. If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, follow the links below for more information.
It is important to note that much of the psychological pain that exists within Black communities is due to systemic inequities. While changing these structures will take time and collective effort, it is not only possible but crucial to practice joy as a form of radical healing! Keep reading to learn more about how you can foster this for yourself.
Black folks account for almost 20% of people with depression in the United States, yet they’re less likely to receive treatment.
More Information: CTL and Psychiatry.org
Black adults are exposed to more risk factors for anxiety (i.e., racism, discrimination) than their white counterparts.
More Information: ADAA
Black adults living with a mental illness are at risk of using substances such as alcohol, nicotine, marijuana, and pain relievers.
More Information: Recovery
Exposure to trauma is highest among Black Americans compared to all other racial groups. Due to socioeconomic disparities, Black people are more likely to be exposed to traumatic experiences. Some examples of traumatic experiences faced by the Black community are racism, discrimination, poverty, police brutality, and violence.
More Information: MHA
Black youth, age 5-12, are 2x more likely to die by suicide than their White peers. Suicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts have been rising among Black and African American young adults, age 18-25, since 2018.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact Crisis Text Line by texting “COALITION” to 741741. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if there is an immediate safety concern.
Black Americans are 2x more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white Americans. Many believe this is due to racist bias in the mental health field.
More Information: Fountain House
The Black community faced and continues to face trauma both personally and systematically. Unfortunately, that trauma can be passed down through generations.
More Information: APA
Black mental wellbeing refers to the cognitive, psychological, and emotional wellbeing of those who identify as Black. The Black community embodies countless strengths, but this list includes the top strengths supported by research findings. Awareness of these can help you recognize these strengths within yourself to both honor and foster them.
Examples: Group advocacy, political activism, civic engagement
Examples: Resistance to systemic oppression, overcoming stigma
Examples: Music, art, dance
Examples: Closeness of relationships, unconditional support
Examples: Comedy, roasting one another, bringing joy
Examples: Being aware of unfair treatment
Examples: Development of socialization and protective strategies to survive
Examples: Scientists, inventors, pop culture
Examples: Gospel, faith community, astrology, prayer
Whether you are beginning your mental health journey or are looking for new ideas, here are some tips on ways to foster Black mental wellbeing.
Black joy has always been used to shift negative experiences and heal from trauma. Joy can also promote feelings of pride and help foster community.
Black joy can look like laughing, dancing, exploring nature, creating, or praising. It is anything done freely without the deterrence of societal structures.
Having others around you who have had similar experiences can remind you that you’re not alone.
Foster community, whether it’s online or in-person. You can do this by finding people with similar interests, attending community events, and interacting more with people you see daily.
Mental health journeys can feel scary, but you don’t have to walk that path alone. A part of building community is finding people to grow alongside you.
Talk about your mental health journey when appropriate. This can look like a weekly mental health check-in with a friend.
We all know Black History Month is not long enough to celebrate everything the Black community has accomplished. Embracing Black history, people, and heritage is essential.
Lift every voice and sing! Read, watch, and share entertainment that recognizes the vibrant aspects of Black culture and its contributions to art, literature, music, and film.
It can be exhausting to face the daily nuisances discussed above; sometimes, you must take time to recharge. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Engage in activities you enjoy, spend time with loved ones, and, most importantly, rest your mind and body.
When you’re a member of a marginalized group, you often receive messages that showing emotion is a sign of weakness, but the ability to be vulnerable with those close to you is actually a sign of strength!
Once you identify your emotions, express them to others using “I feel” statements. You might be surprised that your loved ones want to listen to and support you.
Allowing yourself to take up space, even in predominantly white settings, can feel empowering.
When safe, consider speaking and living your truth, whether that’s in your appearance, your behavior, or your mannerisms.
Sometimes seeking mental health support can be scary, especially if it’s for a clinical mental health concern. Just know that mental health professionals are there to support you, and there are accessible ways to connect with them.
Finding a licensed mental health clinician can be an overwhelming process, so take it one step at a time. You might start by looking up local mental health organizations, the mental health departments of hospitals, or online therapist directories. If you are looking for a Black provider, you also may want to check out directories specifically for the Black community.
Check out the Mental Health Coalition’s Resource Library for additional information on boosting mental wellbeing.
Want to learn more? While this Roadmap is just a starting point on Black mental health, there are so many resources out there, and you can find more information specific to the Black community below.
An organization whose mission is to empower youth and their families to seek help managing their mental health; Founded by MHC Program Board Member Dr. Alfiee.
A collective of Black psychologists whose mission is to promote the advancement of African psychology and influence social change.
A non-profit movement dedicated to creating a world where there are no barriers to Black healing.
A non-profit organization dedicated to empowering & supporting the mental health of Black girls & young women.
An organization developing and promoting culturally-relevant educational forums, trainings, and referral services for the health and wellbeing of Black people.
A corporation providing information about mental health topics, increasing the diversity of mental health professionals, and decreasing mental health stigma in the Black community.
A brand & trust creating & amplifying stories that showcase what Black Men & Boys can do.
A non-profit with the mission to improve mental health in Black communities by building culturally-competent resources, programs, and education across the country.
An organization whose goal is to heal racial trauma through love, liberation, equity, and creativity.
A nonprofit on a mission to end the epidemic of youth suicide, especially for young people of color, by transforming the way we communicate and connect about mental health.
An organization whose mission is to promote mental health healing for Black women and girls.
A non-profit organization dedicated to helping people live mentally healthier lives.
An organization designed to proliferate pathways for addressing the severely unmet and underserved emotional needs of Black people.
The nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.
A psychotherapy collective that seeks to make therapy accessible by offering services at a reduced rate.
An organization whose mission is to empower and educate communities on mental health and wellness.
An organization whose focus is to support the mental health and emotional wellbeing of young people of color.
An organization committed to creating mental health accessibility for Black women and girls.
An organization committed to breaking the stigma for Black men seeking mental health support.
Lead author —
Khyia Ward, M.Ed.
Contributing authors —
Naomi Torres-Mackie, PhD
Anna Marie Fennell, M.Ed
Special Thanks —
Zoey FitzGerald Kidwell, MHC Intern
Lauren Carson, Black Girls Smile
Annelle Primm, MD, MPH, The Steve Fund
Tramaine EL‑Amin, MA & Terence Fitzgerald, PhD, EdM, MSW, National Council for Mental Wellbeing
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