The Importance of Black Health & Wellness

At Standard Dose, mental health and well-being is at the heart of what we do. But, as we acknowledge and celebrate Black History Month this February, we believe it’s incredibly important to shine a light on mental health and the disparities that are present in the Black community. 

Why? Because we recognize a crucial need for representation in this field in order for everyone to be able to access the care they deserve. Education is where this work starts, and we invite you to join us in celebrating the Black community’s contributions to the wellness world while calling attention to the disparities that exist.

The Numbers

African American adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population
This statistic is a staggering one, and it’s important to recognize the impact that historical, economic, social, and political influences have on this percentage. Traumatic experiences related to racism and oppression play a role here, as do those related to enslavement and colonialism, as research suggests trauma may be passed down through generations.

A 2010 study found that Black women are “7.5 years biologically ‘older’ than white women” due to the stress they face
It’s no secret that prolonged stress has an adverse impact on our overall health. In fact, the long term activation of the stress response system can put you at increased risk for everything from anxiety to depression, digestive problems, heart disease, and trouble sleeping. The National Institutes of Health study referenced above refers to Black women between the ages of 49-55, stating that Black individuals in the U.S. “are more likely to experience stressful situations, such as material hardship, interpersonal discrimination, structural discrimination in housing and employment, and multiple caregiving roles” than white individuals. Black individuals are “disproportionately exposed [to stress], not only with greater frequency but, plausibly, also with greater duration or intensity” than their white counterparts. 

Only 1 in 3 Black adults in the U.S. who need mental health care receive it, often due to misdiagnosis, socioeconomic factors, and a lack of Black mental health professionals
When it comes to taking strides towards equitable, accessible care, it’s important to acknowledge the historical trauma the Black community has experienced by the medical field. From forced sterilization of Black women to initiatives like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (in which available treatment was withheld from Black men), many individuals in the Black community rightfully have a distrust of the medical system. Another prominent issue is a lack of Black mental health professionals and the cost associated with mental health care. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only 3.7% of members in the American Psychiatric Association and 1.5% of members in the American Psychological Association are Black
Mental health care has a much more meaningful impact when it considers an individual’s background and culture. With such a low percentage of Black mental health professionals, the Black community may struggle to feel comfortable receiving care from someone who does not understand their unique experiences. Culturally responsive mental health treatment is a way to begin to address these issues and disparities, and Columbia University outlines a few key tips for finding a culturally responsive provider here

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Names to Know

While the above statistics point to a lot of work that needs to be done in the mental health system, we also wanted to take some time to highlight the contributions that the Black community has made to this work so far. Here are some names to know:

Dr. Solomon Carter Fuller
Dr. Fuller was the first U.S. psychiatrist of African descent, and was a pioneer in  Alzheimer's research. He worked directly with Alois Alzheimer in his laboratory in Munich, and published what is now recognized as the first comprehensive review of Alzheimer’s disease. Despite his immense contributions to the field, Dr. Fuller was often the recipient of racial discrimination, and was paid less than his fellow white processors, and not acknowledged formally on the payroll at Boston University, where he was employed. He also acted as chair of the Department of Neurology, but was never given an official title. 

Dr. Paul Cornely
Throughout his career, Dr. Cornely focused on developing public health initiatives aimed at reducing healthcare disparities. Starting at Howard University, he built a program that focused on providing public health access to underserved communities, and frequently visited historically black colleges and universities to monitor the quality of campus facilities and healthcare centers. He also advocated for culturally sensitive training for white healthcare providers, and was eventually elected president of the American Public Health Association. His work has paved the way for more equitable care and was a strong advocate for public health for all.

Mamie Phipps Clark
Mamie Phipps Clark was the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University, and testified as an expert witness in school desegregation cases like Brown vs. Board of Education. Her work, in collaboration with husband Kenneth Clark, was developed into the famous doll experiments exposing the psychological effects of segregation on African American children. In addition, the Clarks opened an agency to offer psychological and casework services to families in Harlem. 

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Mental Health Resources
We encourage you to share this article with others in your community, and to take the time to check out some of the below resources. These organizations are dedicated to the work needed to address these disparities and provide equitable mental healthcare access for all. 

Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM)
BEAM is an organization dedicated to the healing, wellness, and liberation of Black communities. BEAM envisions a world where there are no barriers to Black Healing, and provides countless resources, including a virtual wellness directory that helps connect individuals with Black therapists, doulas, and more.

Therapy for Black Girls
An online space that encourages the mental wellness of Black women and girls, Therapy for Black Girls also has a referral tool to help you find a therapist in your area, and a weekly podcast on all things mental health.

Racism and Mental Health
This learning resource from Mental Health America is a great starting point for understanding how racism and mental health are connected.