In 2019, 40.6 million people in America identified as Black — 12.8% of America’s total population. Blacks are the second largest minority population in the United States, after Latinos. As we look at Black progress during Black History Month, there are many people to look up to: from George Washington Carver, to Rosa Parks, to the first female Vice President, Kamala Harris. Despite Black progress, true social will remain a distant goal until health disparities are addressed.
For example, our adult Black community is 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Additionally, young Black adults (ages 18-25) experience higher rates of mental health problems and lower rates of mental health service utilization when compared to young white adults and older Black adults. This corresponds with higher rates of Black discrimination, racism, and disadvantage.
Mental health is an essential part of overall physical health and satisfaction in life. Given that our Black community lives at the intersection of racism, classism, and health inequity, their mental health needs are often exacerbated and unaddressed. Issues related to economic insecurity and associated experiences (such as violence and criminal injustice) further compound mental health disparities in the Black population.
In addition to mental health disorders, Black Americans are overrepresented in other high-risk populations. Black Americans comprise approximately 40% of the homeless population, 50% of the prison population, and 45% of children in the foster care system. Research tells us that exposure to violence, incarceration, and involvement in foster care increase a person’s chances of developing a mental illness.
Therefore, there can be no wrong door to mental healthcare. All entry points to services must be able to identify mental health disorders and provide linkage to treatment. This means courts, prisons, jails, medical providers, counselors, treatment providers, social services, as well as schools, and public agencies. All were part of the problem; all must be part of the solution.