Mental illness can affect anyone, but for people of color, the experience of the illness itself is often compounded (or even caused) by racism, microaggressions, and community-specific stigma. Racism and stereotypes about mythic black strength creep into every facet of life — including the health care industry (one study even found that doctors give black children less pain medication than their white counterparts). Mental illness, which can also manifest as physical pain, is often misdiagnosed in black patients or subject to subtly discriminatory treatment from providers.
Have racism or stereotypes affected your mental health or access to care?
When I was younger I was made to believe that mental health wasn't an issue for black people because it was never talked about. I suffered for so long because of that. —MN, 22
One of the major things holding me back from pursuing more mental health care and (more so) medicinal intervention is how people will interpret my seeking a prescription. Black people are already considered "delinquents," prone to undesirable characteristics like addiction...I don't want to have to deal with that situation on top of my anxiety, on top of my BD, on top of my social class. I'm mentally exhausted before I even pick up the phone. —Rai, 25
As a black woman, I feel like my depression isn't taken as seriously since black women are usually perceived as being "strong" and "confident." Perhaps if I was a white woman who was "weak," "fragile," and "innocent," then others would be more supportive when I open up about my struggles. —T.A., 23
As a Christian I was scared to seek therapy. My mother and others had drilled into my head that I just wasn't praying right or whatever. It seemed like a failure of my religion to seek help, but one day I called my pastor and couldn't stop crying, and she said it would be a good idea if I talked to someone. That gave me the assurance I needed. —Anon, 29
I have noticed that I cannot cope with the news of black people getting shot just for being black. Some days I sit in my house in a state of panic because I am worried someone (or me) in my family will become the next hashtag. —Chrissy, 24
Lack of representation and casual everyday racism lead to serious self-loathing issues. I hated my skin and my hair and myself in general. I had to unlearn internalized racism before I could even begin liking myself, and that fed into my anxiety and depression. —Meredith, 25
Media paints us as simultaneously pathological (like, we're CRAZZZYYY and dysfunctional) and infallible (Black folks don't have PTSD/anxiety/eating disorders/etc. nor do they feel anything besides sassy, sex crazed, and angry). It's so ridiculous. No one wants to swallow their pride (for good reasons), and "confirm" the oppressor's beliefs that they are "crazy," so we resist treatment. —D, 21
I was labeled as "fast" when describing my hypersexual response to my trauma. Whenever I bring up my feelings about fulfilling the "strong black woman" trope, I always have to explain to them what this trope actually is. —L. Morris, 26
I think I've generally felt I didn't have the right to say I had a mental illness. So many people went through so much before me and survived just fine, so I thought I was overly emotional, spoiled, and lazy. I thought I could will my way out. —JazzaRay, 28
Racism in the San Francisco Bay Area specifically is insidious and everywhere, but people act like they're so evolved, but it's microaggression central. In SF as a black queer woman I feel invisible, separate, and not wanted. I'm often the only black person when I go places. It adds to the depression that I already struggle with. —D, 38
The stereotypes that have contributed to my concerns are linked with the fact that I am an immigrant, so you gotta do everything well since your parents worked so hard to send you to a school in the U.S. —S, 25
What resources have helped you navigate your mental health?
Blogs mostly, the occasional article posted on Facebook, and naps. I have a GIF on my phone that starts as a line and grows to a polygon to help regulate breathing during a panic attack or whatever. I use that a lot. —Rai, 25
I journal a lot, and I talk to my therapist from time to time. It's been interesting discussing this with friends, because a lot of the time they don't realize that they are going through the same issues, or they don't realize that panic attacks are NOT a normal part of life. Exercise has helped me a lot — I discovered that after my friend died after getting hit by a drunk driver. It took me three months of darkness to realize that I was becoming a zombified version of myself and that I wasn't processing my grief normally, until I decided to hit the gym and it worked wonders. —S, 25
I didn't have enough money and insurance to seek help. Thankfully, I was insured through Obamacare and if it were not for Obamacare, I would be dead. —Chrissy, 24
Family, friends, art, good mental health providers, medication, and most recently, Tumblr. I’ve learned a lot of things talking to other mentally ill people there, including new coping methods and terms for symptoms I never had names for. —Meredith, 25
Having a Tumblr has allowed me to share my thoughts and experiences about mental illness on an anonymous platform without fear of being judged. Talking to some friends about my problems has been helpful as well. —T.A., 23
The number one resource has been the writings of other black women who have struggled with mental health issues. From reading blogs that specifically deal with POC health care to the occasional post just saying "black women with mental health care problems matter" is really helpful. —Samantha, 23
I used to play video games whenever I felt a panic attack coming on. Explore new things! (If that isn't a trigger). Find something you like at least a little bit and try and do it as much as possible. It shouldn't be a chore; it should give you something to look forward to. —Legaci, 18
Before therapy I studied Reiki, massage, energy work, and other alternative healing modalities, and those really helped me and made my therapy experiences richer because I was more in my body and had more access to my feelings and emotions. —D, 38
What advice do you have for other black people concerned about their mental health?
Please, don't be so strong that you don't ask someone to help carry the load. It is so tiring to be strong. ... Black people have incredible resilience, but we can only continue bouncing back if we create a foundation to rise from. Reach out, I promise, the people who love you will reach back. —D., 21
Get help. Speak to someone. Trust your gut. If you feel like something is going on, you're probably right. If you have to go from doctor to doctor to find someone who'll listen to you, so be it. It won't be easy but the end result is more than worth it. —Brittney, 27
Don't be ashamed. You are no less for admitting it. No less for seeking help. I'm sorry it’s not easier. Just know that while your situation is uniquely experienced by you, you are not alone in the struggle. Do little things for yourself and your mental health when you can. I'm glad you're here. —Rai, 25
If you feel like something is wrong and you can't tell what it is and you don't know how to make yourself feel better and nothing is working, call a free crisis line or suicide line. Their listeners are trained to actually listen to you and not judge you. —S.H., 28
More of us have issues than we admit. We deal with systemic injustice and ongoing trauma, and we inflict pain on each other as well. We need to acknowledge there are things affecting us — some our fault, some not, some lingering through family history and our history as a race — and we can't get better if we ignore them. We need to seek healing and be a resource for each other. We need to build a sense of community. —Anon, 29
Don't let bullshit stereotypes about black people (specifically black women) being "strong" all the time prevent you from seeking help. —Samira, 17
You're the expert of you, the therapist is an expert in ways to address what you're struggling with. Therapy is a team effort and it can take time. —D., 38
Small things turn into big things — try to get a hand on someone you can talk to, even if it's not as bad as you think it should be to be allowed to get help. Some day it might be. —N.G., 22
Try to dismantle the toxic idea that mental health is a "white people thing," or that having a mental illness is because you aren't spiritual/praying hard enough, etc. because it only holds up the stigma that stops so many people from getting the help they need and deserve. —A.I., 20
In my personal experience, my family initially denied my mental health and told me to pray about it. Now, I don't discourage prayer, and faith is important in the black community, but I highly stress seeking medical intervention. You have a chemical imbalance in your brain and that needs to be addressed. Yes, seek out support in your community, but please don't be afraid to talk to your doctor, find counseling, or go to a psychiatrist. —Chrissy, 24
Google is your friend. It's important to go out and seek a formal diagnosis, but the first step is fully research your potential mental health care issues and potential treatments/methods. I would also recommend typing in terms like "black health care" and "POC mental awareness" to find specific resources for us. It's a good reminder that you're not alone. —Samantha, 23
Push yourself to create tangible ways of coping, explore internet resources for tips on managing stress, loneliness, distraction, etc. And finally, always make time for the things you love even if for a small moment every other day. —Jae, 19
What advice do you have for other black folks who are looking for a therapist?
I sought a professional who was similar to me — but it took some research. She is a black woman and a Christian. I reached out to many people, and she was the first to respond. That to me was a sign not to deal with other people who could not take the time to respond to someone seeking help…She made me comfortable doing something I already was scared to do. —Anon, 29
Have a rough idea of 1) the difference between therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist, 2) What you would like to get out of any session in the short term and long term, and 3) Don't be afraid to ask your mental health professional those hard questions! Find out if this person is racist, transphobic, or classist. It’s better to find out whether or not you want to continue working with that person in the first meeting than in the fifth. —Rai, 25
If you're not 100% comfortable with the person you're seeing, don't be afraid or feel guilty about switching providers. If you don't feel safe speaking with your therapist, you won't get the full benefits of the therapy. If you want a black or female therapist specifically, look for them. They are out there. —Brittney, 27
For those in college, many campuses have a free or low-cost counseling service that students should definitely take advantage of. —T.A., 23
Don’t put up with racism or dismissiveness of your experience with racism from your mental health professionals. You can’t have a healthy relationship with them if they won’t acknowledge the impact that racism has on mental health. —Meredith, 25
If you've experienced trauma, find groups in your area who meet up for therapy or to talk about shared experiences, and talk to someone you feel safe with because they may also be able to guide you to resources or give you the encouragement you need to call a therapist or psychiatrist. —Liz, 28
Explore multiple alternatives for treating your mental health. Sometimes two, or more, therapies is more effective (and sometimes better) than one. —SF, 26
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Always consult with your doctor about your personal health and wellness. BuzzFeed posts are for informational purposes only, and are no substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, or professional medical advice.