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Mental health in the Black community; A conversation with experts and protesters

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Posted at 6:42 PM, Jul 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 20:02:07-04

COLORADO SPRINGS — Depression is more than life's "ups" and "downs." For some people it's like a dark cloud hanging over your mind; A type of sadness that does not go away, or keeps coming back.

The need for mental health support is more evident than ever, especially among Black Americans. Research shows that adults in the Black community are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems.

News5 spoke a couple of local experts who point to systemic racism as one giant factor.

Thriveworks, Licensed Professional Counselor, Katrina Hepner says, when systemic racism and mental health collide, picture waves crashing against the sea.

"Yes there are opportunities for everyone but White people are swimming with the current," Hepner explained. "Black people have the access but we are swimming against the current and it makes it exhausting, if you've ever been at a beach and swam in rough waters."

Different kinds of rough waters, have been seen and felt from protesters across Colorado, who say incidents like George Floyd's death, have caused them to feel anxious and depressed.

Demonstrators like Martrice Elise, who was reminded of Ferguson, when the protests over George Floyd and Devon Bailey's death, were revving up here.

"I'm from St. Louis and it brought up a lot of feelings for me that I had to address, so me personally, I decided to seek out therapy," Elise said.

Licensed Psychotherapist, at Creative Pathways Counseling, Tory White, says a lot can happen to the body the minute a person is exposed to trauma, starting with the brain.

"All of a sudden there is a rush of chemicals like Cortisol, Adrenaline, and a host of things that fire into our blood stream for us to do something," White explained.

Dealing with anxiety and depression is nothing new in the Black community. Counselors and therapists point to systemic racism; An embedded way of thinking that can affect how people of color feel about themselves.

"You do better and better and still you're not good enough and that's really hard to take on," Hepner said. "It's for no other reason than the color of your skin, that you may not be as successful as other Americans."

African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to suffer psychological disorders compared to the rest of the population. Economic barriers, disparities in healthcare, education and housing are big factors, according to the CDC, but when it comes to getting help, experts say you've got to talk about the stigma.

"I think it is deeply rooted in the African-American lifestyle in family. We feel that our strength is together. Our strength is holding things among ourselves, and staying within that family unit for help and support," White said.

The American Psychological Association says 25 percent of Black people seek help for their mental health problems, compared to 40 percent of whites.

Chineta Lyne, is another advocate and protester. She founded the local chapter of "American Descendants of African Slaves," a group, dedicated to getting reparations for the Black community.

Lyne says she doesn't see a lot of counselors who are minorities, and therefore may not be able to relate to what she goes through.

"The professionals that are there to provide the help, can't help because they are not experienced with the black experience,"Lyne said.

Only 1.5 members of the American Psychological Association are Black. But, like the Black experience, hope is always on the horizon.

There are a couple of ways we can change the state of mental health in the Black community.

1) Bring awareness to the use of stigmatizing language around mental illness.
2) Educate family, friends, and colleagues about the unique challenges of mental illness within the Black community.
3) Become aware of our own attitudes and beliefs toward the Black community to reduce implicit bias and negative assumptions
4) Realize that help is out there.

Here's a list of resources, provided by the non-profit, Mental Health America.

  • Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM): BEAM is a training, movement building and grant making organization dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black communities. BEAM envisions a world where there are no barriers to Black Healing.
    • Toolkits & Education: graphics on accountability, self-control, and emotional awareness; journal prompts; articles on Black mental health
    • Videos: trainings and webinars, recorded and available for free
  • The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: changing the perception of mental illness in the African-American community by encouraging people to get the help they need; focuses on stigma/self-stigma reduction and building trust between Black people and the mental health field.
    • Resource Guide: directory of mental health providers and programs that serve the Black community; includes therapists, support groups, etc, but also digital content, faith-based programs, educational programs, etc
  • Therapy for Black Girls: online space encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls; referral tool to find a therapist in your area
    • Therapist Directory: find trusted therapists that can help you navigate being a strong, Black woman; can search for in-office therapist by your location or virtual therapist
    • The Yellow Couch Collective: a paid membership community ($9.99/mo), space for Black women to gather to support, encourage, and learn from each other.
  • The Loveland Foundation: financial assistance to Black women & girls seeking therapy
  • Therapy for Black Men: primarily a therapist directory for Black men seeking therapy; includes some resources and stories
  • Dr. Ebony’s My Therapy Cards: self-exploration card deck created by a Black female psychologist for other women of color; created with the intention of helping other women of color grow and elevate in the areas of emotional and mental health.