Black Mental Health Matters

Last updated: February 23, 2021, at 11:43 a.m. PT

Originally published: February 22, 2021, at 11:12 a.m. PT

African American Senior Man looking distressed and Young Woman exercising.

Black Mental Health Matters

“Anyone who’s interested in making change in the world, also has to learn how to take care of herself, himself, their selves.” – Angela Davis

By Kaeleigh Randolph-Schultz, LMHCA, Y Clinical Therapist

Black mental health has always mattered but it hasn’t always gotten the attention it deserves.

Living with systemic racism and social injustice is nothing new for Black Americans. It is the primary factor that impacts Black mental wellness. However, in our darkest moments, we are still able to find solace in places like our faith and spirituality, despite the collective trauma of racism experienced on a daily basis. Additionally, family gatherings and community have been one of our strongest coping strategies for battling mental stress, and historically, one of the only things we ever really did have. Even when we’re going through it, we’re able to get through it better together. 

Now, having lived a year through a pandemic, the absence of that critical aspect of life has caused an even heavier burden on our mental health. Not only is the Black community at higher risk of more severe illnesses from COVID-19 due to underlying health conditions, but systemic racial barriers and disparities within healthcare, education, employment, and housing make exposure to the virus even more likely.

The past year has been exhausting to say the very least. In the midst of COVID-19, we watched the rest of the world “wake up” to racism as viral videos of Black lives being murdered circulated on all forms of media. Peaceful protests were attacked with police brutality while our anger and pain were criticized and invalidated. The intersection of these traumatic experiences have made Black Americans even more susceptible to anxiety and depression, with a doubling in suicide rates. Unfortunately, only one-in-three Black Americans who need mental health care receives it. Here are a few reasons why: 

  • Stigma associated with mental illness 
  • Distrust of the health care system 
  • Lack of providers from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds 
  • Lack of culturally competent providers
  • Lack of insurance, underinsurance
  • Negative therapy experiences  

Despite failures of a Eurocentric healthcare system and lack of Black provider representation, we can still take control of our mental wellness. Here’s how:

  • Gatherings can still happen… socially distanced or virtually. To be honest, it’s not the same as being able to hug or see each other in person, but there is potential for connection and community care. Be creative on how to stay connected, because this is crucial even though it looks a little different right now.
  • Music and art. Another important cultural value that allows healing, joy, release, and expression in so many different forms. Some of the most powerful works of art have come from places of pain. 
  • Laughter. The simplest, yet most healing medicine there is. For many Black Americans, laughter is what allowed us to move through suffering. We deserve to laugh, even when it feels like there is nothing to laugh about. 
  • Rest and intentional rest. Both active and passive self-care. In fact, the term “self-care” was coined in the 1950’s and became more widely spread amongst different communities thanks to the Black Panthers. I invite you to check out this interview of Angela Davis explaining the origins and importance of radical self-care and the role it plays in social activism. When you feel like you’ve hit a wall, lean on that wall and rest awhile. Take a moment to breathe.
  • Set boundaries. When we set boundaries, we protect ourselves by setting guidelines for others around us. It is a form a self-love. Especially when it comes to conversations about race and/or racism, Black Americans have absolutely no obligation to take part in them. Why? Because it gets exhausting. 
  • Spiritual/religious connection. Praying, worshipping, and meditating are all great sources of practicing spirituality. There are endless ways to find spiritual connection that refill and refresh our souls. No matter what your belief system looks like, spirituality plays a huge role in the holistic health of Black Americans. 

In conclusion, recognize how far we’ve come and remember where we’re headed. There is still work to be done. In the meantime, let’s continue taking care of ourselves and each other.

Because Black mental health matters, Black joy matters, and Black healing matters. It is the very foundation of Black excellence. 

RESOURCES: Please find resources below and ways to support various organizations focused on Black mental health (SpringHealth): 

  • Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM) Collective: A collective of advocates, yoga teachers, artists, therapists, lawyers, religious leaders, teachers, psychologists, and activists committed to the emotional/mental health and healing of Black communities.
  • Black Girls Smile: BGS is a nonprofit organization that empowers the mental well-being of young black girls.
  • Black Mental Health Alliance: Works towards developing, promoting, and sponsoring trusted culturally-relevant educational forums, trainings and referral services that support the health and well-being of Black people and other vulnerable communities.
  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: Works towards eradicating the stigma around mental health in the African American community.
  • Inclusive Therapist: Inclusive therapist directory, online trainings and workshops, and inclusive mental health events.
  • The Loveland Foundation and Therapy Fund: Therapy fund uses donations to fund mental health services for Black women and girls.
  • My Brother’s Keeper: An initiative of the Obama administration that aims to unite and amplify the voices of black men through mentorship.
  • National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network: A healing justice organization that actively works to transform mental health for queer and trans people of color in North America.
  • The Safe Place App: Mental Health app geared toward the Black community featuring Black mental health statistics, inspirational black quotes, and self-care tips.
  • Therapy for Black Girls: A space for Black women developed to navigate mental health in an accessible and relevant manner.
  • 100 Black Men of America: Working to improve the quality of life within the African American community.
  • The Marsha P. Johnson Institute (MPJI): An organization focused on protecting and defending the human rights of Black transgender people through organizing, advocating, creating an intentional community to heal, developing transformative leadership, and promoting our collective power.
  • The Unplug Collective: “a place where Black and Brown womxn and non-binary folks can share their stories about existing in their bodies without being silenced or censored.”
  • The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness: COVID-19 Women’s Relief Fund

Upcoming YMCA of Greater Seattle Black History Month Health Disparities and Inequities Events

Wednesday, February 24, 9:00 am–12:00 pm, PST 
Unlearning Systemic Racism Virtual Town Hall Hosted by the Y's African American CEOs (open to the community)

Virtual town hall meeting hosted by the Y's African American CEOs for a conversation about health equity. REGISTER HERE

Friday, February 26, 1:00–2:00 pm, PST 
COVID-19 Vaccine and the Black Community (open to the community)

Dr. Stephaun Wallace, Staff Scientist, Infectious Disease Division, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center will present the importance of receiving the COVD-19 Vaccine, dispelling the myths regarding the Vaccine, and answering any questions participants might have. REGISTER HERE