As we continue to celebrate an amazing Black History Month, it is important to amplify the importance of Black mental wellness through education and knowledge. This task is not just my responsibility as a Black mental health professional, but all who truly believe in equitable mental health services. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Though Black Americans experience serious mental health problems at a higher rate, they are the most underrepresented in the utilization of mental health services.
The discussion around Black mental wellness is often guided by how racial trauma, both historically and present-day, negatively impacts the mental health of Black Americans. These both play a significant role in how mental health services are viewed within Black communities. Though these traumas have and will continue to impact help-seeking behaviors of Black individuals, this is not the only barrier that needs to be overcome to efficiently dismantle the engrained racism within our mental health system and the educational programs that produce mental health providers. Validating and unpacking the Black American experience will always be necessary, but my passion was found after understanding the importance of Black representation of mental health providers within the field and the importance of culturally competent providers.
The lack of representation of Black mental health providers often discourages Black Americans from seeking help for fear of judgment or punishment from medical providers, which is mainly made up of white individuals. According to the 2019 U.S Census Bureau, 83 percent of the psychology workforce self-identified as white, seven percent Hispanic, four percent Asian, and three percent Black. Black representation matters within the mental health field because it often helps demystify mental health and the stigma surrounding seeking treatment. Cultivating a safe and validating space in mental health education programs for Black students is pivotal to increasing Black representation within the mental health field. Creating these support opportunities helps dismantle the common racial barriers associated with becoming a Black mental health provider. The lack of representation of Black mental health providers impacts the representation within the field and weighs on the culturally competent practices utilized while working with Black clients.
When advocating for equitable mental health services for Black individuals, increasing the representation of Black mental health providers is not the only way to push this fight forward. Black professionals mustn’t be pigeonholed into being the only professionals servicing Black clients. This way of providing services often leaves Black mental health providers exhausted while experiencing high rates of burnout. Instead, there has to be an emphasis placed on the importance of training multiculturally competent mental health providers. Blacks are often met with practitioners who do not fully understand the racial traumas that Black Americans experience. The American Psychiatric Association noted when “compared with whites with the same symptoms, African Americans are more frequently diagnosed with schizophrenia and less frequently diagnosed with mood disorders.”
The knowledge obtained from my education and my own experiences with incompetent mental health providers sparked a passion for advocacy in me for Black mental health. I was fortunate to have phenomenal Black women mental health professionals and guidance during my master’s program. These women imprinted in me the value of always utilizing your voice to push the advancement of the Black population forward. I now recognize that this is a privilege that many Black counselors in training are not afforded.
Increasing representation in the field, granting all appropriate multicultural competent services, and unpacking and validating the impact of historical trauma on the Black community is only the beginning of this fight that we all must continue to push forward. I am beyond proud to be a Spartan at Elgin Community College, where equity, diversity, and inclusion are always at the forefront of what we do. This is evident in the amazing programming produced during this year’s Black History Month celebration, and the MAGIC’s Black Lives Matter series that highlights and provides important information about the Black experience. Even when the month comes to a close, I will always continue to advocate for Black mental wellness, and I am happy to have my fellow Spartans join me in the fight.
Jasmine L. Young, LCPC, Wellness Professional at Elgin Community College