Mental Health Challenges in African American Communities 

While all of our communities face mental health challenges, African American communities often deal with more stigma and discrimination, and can receive compromised care. 

Stigma

In our recent report on diverse communities, we surveyed community members and asked them to weigh in on this statement: “I feel comfortable talking with close friends, family, and community members about mine/my loved one’s health.” 40.67 percent of those who identified as white answered with “strongly agree” or “agree,” compared with 12.5% of those who identified as African American/Black. These disparate responses indicate serious differences in current experiences of stigma.

Read more about our report on diverse communities and take our survey for next year.

Cultural Competence

Our beliefs, norms, values, and language play key roles in every aspect of our lives, including our mental health. When we talk about cultural competence in health, we begin with a doctor’s ability to recognize and understand the role our cultures play in treatment. 

Research has shown lack of cultural competence in mental health care, which often results in misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. Sadly, African Americans and other multicultural communities tend to receive a poorer quality of care. 

NAMI suggestions on finding a culturally competent provider:

Ask questions to get a sense of a provider’s level of cultural sensitivity. Providers expect and welcome questions from their patients since this helps them better understand you and what is important to you. Your questions give your doctor and health care team important information about you, such as your main health care concerns. Here are some questions you could ask:

  • Have you treated other African Americans?
  • Have you received training in cultural competence or on African American mental health?
  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  • How do you plan to integrate my beliefs and practices in my treatment?

Your mental health provider will play an important role in your treatment, so make sure you can work with this person and that you communicate well together. Mention your beliefs, values and cultural characteristics. Make sure they understand them so that they can be considered in the course of your treatment. For example, mention whether you would like your family to be part of your treatment.

Find out about our free cultural competence toolkit and webinar trainings.


Videos of African Americans Sharing their Mental Health Stories

Video: Nancy Carter discussing her work with Bebe Moore Campbell to bring mental health awareness to the black community, the origins of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and her personal mental health journey as a peer and family member.

NAMI California Video: Gigi R. Crowder, Executive Director of NAMI Contra Costa County, sharing her story as a family member with lived experience advocating for underrepresented communities.

NAMI California Video: Mykel Gayent sharing his story of mental health recovery as a veteran with bipolar disorder and PTSD.

NAMI California Video: Jessie Wright sharing her story as a peer and mental health advocate living with bipolar disorder. 

NAMI Video: “Tackling Mental Health Stigma” video with NFL football player Chris Hubbard 

NAMI Video: Barbershop Confessions in the Big Easy


Sharing Your Stories

Have a story to share of your own experience? We’re always looking to elevate voices from our communities.

Find out about our Represent Recovery initiative, which calls for a paradigm shift in the way we view mental health in diverse cultural communities and aims to serve members of underrepresented communities while centering their voices in the overall mental health movement.


More Reading on the Subject

Strength Over Silence: Stories Of Courage, Culture And Community (NAMI)

How to Reduce Stigma in the African American Community (NAMI) 

Coping With Bipolar Disorder Within My Faith Community (NAMI)

Racial Disparities in Mental Health and Criminal Justice (NAMI)

Statistics on Mental Health and African Americans (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Minority Health)

You Can’t ‘Pray Away’ Your Mental Illness (NAMI)

Mental Health in the African American Community (Each Mind Matters)

I Thought Depression was a White People Disease (Vice)

Depression is Not Something a Black Person Necessarily Grows Up Understanding. I Didn’t Until I Had To (Public Source)

Mental Health in the Black Community: Why We Can No Longer Be Silent (BlackDoctor.org)

African American History Month