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Blacks 10% more likely to report psychological distress, less likely to seek help

Posted November 6, 2018 5:45 p.m. EST
Updated November 7, 2018 2:32 p.m. EST

The black community is suffering from mental health issues at a disproportionately high rate compared to the general population, but seeks assistance at a lower rate. (fizkes/Big Stock Photo)

This article was written for our sponsor, Triangle Springs.

It's no secret that different cultural and ethnic groups in the United States face unique challenges on a daily basis. This applies to mental health issues as well.

The black community is suffering from issues at a disproportionately high rate compared to the general population, but seeks assistance at a lower rate.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health found that black Americans are 10 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than whites. The specific diagnoses are the same that impact other demographics, namely depression, anxiety, substance abuse and bipolar disorder.

The reasons for the increased prevalence of these issues are complex and personal, but could be tied up in the same social climate that causes discrimination and prejudice.

Discussing mental health issues has been seen as taboo in the past, but there's a growing acceptance that these are real challenges people face every day. Unfortunately, for some members of the black community, there are learned behaviors that are still causing people to retreat and remain silent about whatever they’re dealing with.

"It's something that’s been instilled within the African American community," said Shonquilla Satterwhite, an in-patient therapist with Triangle Springs. "Not just our community, but what the African American community has endured as a people. The expectation is that you should be able to deal with this. There is a lot of minimizing, there is a lot of rationalizing, there are a lot of barriers we put on ourselves. We say, 'Well, it's not that big of a deal,' as opposed to 'Reach out.' "

One reason why the black community may be averse to reaching out could also be the strong social bonds that already exist.

Strong familial bonds provide support, as do religious institutions and close social circles. The strength of the religious community provides an atmosphere to "pray it away" instead of reaching out. This support structure may assist in dealing with any issues, but Satterwhite encourages anyone suffering to reach out and pursue all options.

"I encourage each individual to be open to learning something new when it comes to your mental health," Satterwhite said. "Understand when you need to reach out and know that it’s not a sign of weakness."

As for actually reaching out for assistance, there doesn't appear to be any impact in results when the patient and therapist come from different ethnic backgrounds, but sharing those cultural traits could initially create a more comforting atmosphere.

"It's not necessarily necessary to have a professional of the same ethnic background," Satterwhite said. "However, with the African American community, since there is such a stigma, a lot of the times there is comfort knowing we can look out to someone that looks like us. Clinically, it's not going to make or break the efficiency. It's just something that a lot of people look for just so you can say, 'OK, I know you can relate.' "

For those suffering but unsure of where to look for help, the answer is as easy as opening a Web browser. Local resources are often compiled in one place, and a quick web search will reveal nearby options.

If you're struggling from any physical side effects, a primary care physician may be able to refer a mental health provider, and those in school or with school-aged children may have counselors available.

This article was written for our sponsor, Triangle Springs.