Getting Mental Health Support in Black Families
By LaKeisha Fleming
We all struggle sometimes, and we all deserve help and compassion when those hard times come. That’s especially true when it comes to taking care of yourself emotionally. No matter your race, religion, or gender, you should have support for your mental health needs, yet in some communities, it can be harder to get that help than in others.
In the Black community, almost 30% of youth say they don’t get the mental health help they need. Sometimes not getting that help is because of a lack of access to health care or mental health resources. Other times, it’s a lack of support from the people closest to you. When your family isn’t there for you during your mental health struggles, it can make it even harder to focus on feeling better.
If you are struggling with your mental health and can’t get the support you need from your family, there are ways you can advocate for yourself to get the mental health help you need.
What Does a Lack of Family Support Look Like?
Historically, there have been a lot of reasons Black families haven’t felt comfortable talking about mental health. Research shows that as far back as the days of slavery, Black people were looked at as not educated enough to have real mental health troubles. Instead, they were viewed as just being tired or stressed. When people of color dealt with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, the person experiencing these symptoms was seen as weak. As a result, many Black people were ashamed and embarrassed by family members with mental health problems.
Many of these long-held beliefs have been passed down through generations. Older family members may not be aware that these inter-generational beliefs could be a part of why they are so opposed to getting mental health help. Their feelings seem like a lack of wanting to help, but in reality they may not know what getting help in a healthy way looks like.
Not having emotional support from the people closest to you can be hurtful. When you tell your family you are concerned about your mental health, they may minimize your feelings by telling you it’s not that bad. They may also take things a step further, telling you to stop acting crazy or trying to get attention. Because they may not fully understand what you’re going through, they may find it easier to dismiss it than to deal with it.
If you try to seek treatment, you may hear family members repeating what they’ve heard older generations say. They may tell you that therapy is for white people or say that what happens in your house stays in your house, which means you can’t talk to others about what you’re going through.
They can also discourage you by refusing to give you resources you need, including financial support or access to insurance, or refusing to help you with transportation to get to your appointments.
Any attempts to silence your voice and keep you from getting help shows a lack of support. It can make you feel hurt and isolated, and damage your relationships with family members. Worst of all, it can make you feel helpless. Once someone has made light of your situation and hasn’t taken your feelings seriously, it may feel hard to trust them in the future.
You may feel alone, but you’re not. If your family doesn’t support you on your journey to getting help, there are tools available to help you advocate for yourself.
Speaking Up About Your Mental Health
If you don’t feel safe talking to your family about your mental health, there are other ways you can find support.
- Reach out to another trusted adult. A family friend, a church youth group leader, a sports coach, a teacher, or professor who cares about you can start you on the path to getting the help you need.
- Talk to a friend, who in turn can talk to their parents. Those adults can be a source of support for you.
- Visit your school counselor or on-campus counseling center. In addition to a listening ear, they also have resources that can help you.
- Call, email, or text Teen Line, where your peers, who have been trained to provide support, will listen and offer resources to help you feel better.
- Contact the Crisis Text Line. Text HOME to 741-741 and a trained counselor will text you back, 24 hours a day.
- Find a support group for people who have similar mental health struggles. You’ll feel less alone when you see and talk with other people dealing with similar things that you are dealing with. Websites such as Mental Health America, Psychology Today, and Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine can help you find groups meeting near you. EveryMind has an extensive listing of resources for people of color, including ways to connect to support groups.
- Look for churches and other community organizations that may offer free mental health services. Federally qualified health centers offer free services that may help you.
- Seek out mental health information from reputable organizations. Podcasts, articles, and videos have a lot of really helpful knowledge. The following list highlights just some of the websites that offer an abundance of resources:
You don’t have to feel alone or suffer in silence. Your voice matters, and there are lots of people who want to hear it. Make sure you are heard and receive the mental health care you need, even if it takes work. You can feel so much better than you do right now.
Learn More About Black Mental Health
- Celebrating Your Black Identity Is Self-Care
- How Exploring Your Black Identity Can Improve Your Mental Health
- Ways to Begin Exploring Your Racial Identity
- How to Break Free of the ‘Strong Black Woman’ Stereotype
- Using Humor As a Healthy Coping Mechanism
- How to Support Social Justice Without Hurting Your Mental Health
- The Benefits of a Therapist Who Understands Your Cultural Background
- How to Find a Culturally Competent Therapist
- How Knowing Your Identity Can Help When You’re Faced With Discrimination
- Racial Battle Fatigue: What is Racial Trauma and Its Effects on Mental Health?
- How You Can Cope With Racism and Racial Trauma
- How Black Youth Can Take Care of Their Mental Health After Racial Violence