The Mental Health Bullet in the Black Community

Updated: Nov 6, 2018

Tonya Smith:

When an innocent person is shot or wounded by a stray bullet, most people respond by saying that a bullet has no name on it and this is true. A bullet does not bare person's name.  A mental illness is a bullet that puts everyone at risk it is not concerned with age or marital status. It does not care whether you work or not.  A mental illness is a serious disorder that affects your thinking, mood and behavior. There are many types of conditions that are recognized as mental illnesses some include bipolar, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress  and obsessive compulsive disorder to name a few.  The origin of these illnesses can stem from family history, genetics and experiences with stress, a history of abuse and biological factors.  Socioeconomic disparities have also been linked to mental health issues and those who are impoverished, homeless, have substance abuse problems or have been incarcerated at higher risk for poor mental health.

African-Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic Whites, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Services. In addition, young adult African-Americans, especially those with higher levels of education, are less likely to seek mental health services than their White counterparts, according to a study published by the American Psychological Association. History has proven that people of color have experienced distinctive and considerable challenges in accessing mental health services primarily due to encountering racism and paying for care; thus, making the prospect of getting help unsettling for the black community.  Another factor that hinders African-Americans from seeking help is the stigma that it undermines their faith; however, faith, support from family, friends and a health care professional that is culturally sensitive to your condition and understands your language, values, and beliefs can serve as an effective source of emotional support.  There is nothing wrong with seeking an African-American doctor for your medical needs.  

Another issue is cost, with the Affordable Care Act in place, it is now easier for those uninsured to receive insurance benefits. One way to ensure that you choose the correct plan for you and your family, your medical needs and what works well with your income is by speaking to a representative that can help you understand the plans and their benefits.  If finances are preventing you from finding help, contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government to see what services are available to you. You can find contact information online at or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).  In addition, seek out support groups for your specific condition, become aware and informed about your illness.

Often in the African-American community, we are clueless about how to help our family and friends, or ourselves only because we are misinformed so ask, questions, read the pamphlets that are provided for you or visit your local library to check out books on your illness. During your next visit, to your doctor take your questions with you to get the correct answers so you fully understand how to best care for yourself or your loved ones. If you feel you or a loved one might be experiencing a mental health condition, remember it is not your fault or your family’s fault anyone can develop a mental health problem. Seeking treatment can help you live a fulfilled life and can strengthen you and your family for the future.


United States Census Bureau. (2014). Quick facts. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health. (2016). Mental health and African Americans. Retrieved from


Capstone Institute/Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk, Howard University:

National Black Nurses Association:


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