Many experts are convinced that mental illness is the number one undertreated/misdiagnosed condition in these United States of America. So naturally, as a historically brutalized and oppressed group with a limited access to a variety of resources, it comes as no shock to learn that a disproportionate number of African Americans suffer from mental health issues.

Black Press’ exploration of this topic explains that one in four patients that frequent health service agencies has at least 1 mental or neurological or behavioral disorder, which go undiagnosed, and leaving mental illness to fester is a recipe for disaster which should be avoided at all costs. The results of untreated mental illness are nothing short of self-destructive. As with any form of severe or chronic illness, aggressive treatment is vital in averting loss of life, or serious, and sometimes permanent, debilitation. In extreme cases, un/undertreated m.i. suffers make disastrous life choices, live a life in perpetual decline and put themselves and the world around them in harms way.

A seriously unfortunate reason many who suffer from mental illness choose to do so in silence is due to a heavy stigma (a.k.a., “That boy/girl crazy!!”) around the issue, which NNPA columnist Glenn Ellis says originates deep in the annals of slave history in America. An interesting side note is a piece of early American racist propaganda: The 1840 Census falsified African American insanity rates to make the institution of slavery look more appealing. The study tried to prove that the further North Black people resided, the crazier they became. In other words, freedom was enuff to drive Black folks out of their minds.

Back to the future, although mental/emotional illnesses affect the Black community so disproportionately, African Americans account for only 2% of the nation’s psychiatrists and psychologists and 4% of social workers. Perhaps our collective resistance to address this pervasive epidemic stonewalls us on both sides of the fence. Centric TV’s effort to aid folks in “coming out the closet” starts with the acknowledgement of the shame attached to mental illness:

“It’s taboo to discuss. It’s something that is often ignored in the Black community. It has a stigma. That “it”, is mental illness. Mental illness is a health issue that affects all types of people regardless of race, religion, or culture. It is something that can’t be remedied, but it is something that can be kept under control.

In the Black community, owning up to mental illness is often times a difficult task because of the stigma attached. These factors make mental illness something that many feel they can’t mention.  Unfortunately, if mental illness isn’t addressed early on—or at all— it can lead to extreme emotional acts that can affect the person suffering and those around them.”


For real though: What have we to be ashamed of? People of any and all cultures are affected by mental illness, emotional disturbances, and the like. However African Americans have endured under psychologically scarring conditions for centuries by the hands of supremely disturbed individuals themselves. As Ellis points out, even in this new millennium, many African-Americans are disproportionately exposed to social conditions considered to be important risk factors for physical and mental affliction. In addition, many AA’s lack a reliable source of health care, which accounts for why a significant segment of the population use the emergency room as a source of primary care.

Ellis explains that “adaptive traditions” have helped African Americans maintain over the centuries. Church/spirituality has been a tried and true mainstay within the culture. Alternative mechanisms have also been used to get by, he mentions, such as smoking food, violence, sex & in some cases, a total withdrawal from society.

Speaking to matters of the heart, mind and soul, bona fide healing is totally within our reach. Ellis suggests the following ways to get the ball rolling in that direction:

~More aggressive efforts in addressing health disparities as a community.

~Educate and involve religious leaders in directing seekers of prayer to mental health  services.

~Make mental health a part of dialogue in primary care settings.

~Increase the availability of African American mental heath providers.

~Encourage compliance and continuation of treatment by family and friends.



Clutch, as usual, we’d love to here your thoughts/suggestions regarding this pervasive issue. In addition, dig these resources that may be of value to you or someone near and dear:


Black Women’s Health Blog


Black Mental Health Alliance

African American Family Resources








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