• Amy Lyman

Mental Illness Stigma Stings Black Communities


“I know growing up in a single parent home with my mother and grandmother. You dealt with it within your community. That was your home.” Ashley Allen knows all too well what it’s like to not be able to reach out with what was going on inside her mind. “My thought was, I can get through anything with two strong independent women.”

Allen, a Jackson County therapist, says only 5% of her clientele is African American. According to NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

Common mental health disorders among African Americans include: Major depression, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Suicide, among young African American men, Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because African Americans are more likely to be victims of violent crime.

When Allen gives presentations, she tells people to look to their left and then to their right. One of those people is living with a mental illness. Even though there is a superwoman syndrome among black women in the African American community, it is not isolated to only black women. “Boys don’t cry, they are told to suck it up, man up,” says Allen.

About 25% of African Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of whites. NAMI attributes that to distrust and misdiagnosis as well as socioeconomic factors. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012, 19% of African Americans had no form of health insurance.

Allen got help for herself later in life, when she realized she couldn’t do it alone. So did her mother. She says she wishes it would’ve happened sooner.” My mom and I have a great relationship now. We are great friends.” Allen says though it is never too late. “It’s so important to get help. You never know what that help can do for you. It can change your life.”

If you or someone you know needs help coping with a mental illness, please tell someone you trust. To locate a support group in your area, log onto namimi.org.


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