There are an estimated 45 million African Americans in the United States, making up roughly 15.2% of the country’s population. The U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the number of African Americans will grow to 74.5 million, or 17.9% of the U.S. population. Since those who identify as African American can include more than one race, these statistics include individuals who both identify solely as African American and include an African American identity.
Although African Americans constitute a relatively small portion of the U.S. population, they tend to experience mental health diagnosis and treatment in a significantly different way.
- Adult African Americans are much more likely to report serious psychological distress-- about 20% more, according to Mental Health America.
- Of those who do report serious issues, only a third receive treatment.
- While the suicide rate for African Americans is relatively low-- around 5.4%-- there has been recent evidence to suggest that there is an increase in suicide rates for young African American males.
- African Americans are also less likely to have private health insurance compared to Whites, and are conversely more likely to rely on public health insurance.
Mental Health Status, Services, and Disparities
African Americans are represented in most, if not all, mental health disorder statistics, but have a unique set of factors that can be considered a barrier or protective factor.
Barriers to Care
- Lack of Access to Treatment: 28% of African Americans live at or below the poverty line. Nearly 18% of African Americans are uninsured, and almost half use public insurance. This is a large reason why many African Americans do not or cannot seek treatment, as care can be difficult to find and/or afford. African Americans also represent 40% of the homeless population, which is a risk factor itself for mental illness.
- Misdiagnosis by Mental Health Professionals: African Americans, especially males, tend to be overrepresented in certain disorders or illnesses. Cultural factors may be at play here, as only a small portion of the professional psychiatric community is African American, and may not know how to correctly identify certain symptoms or mindsets that are unique to the African American experience.
- Cultural Factors: As mentioned above, culture definitely plays a large role in determining how African Americans receive care. There has long been a stigma in the African American community in regards to mental health, leading some to forego treatment in lieu of familial or community support.
- Stress: African Americans are more likely to experience certain risk factors that contribute to mental health disorders. For example, African Americans are more likely to experience violent crime, and therefore have relatively high rates of PTSD in the community.
How Can We Fix This?
Despite the above factors, some mental health professionals have noticed an increase in the amount of African Americans seeking mental health treatment. Though this is a great start, there is a lot that can be done to close the gap.
- Increase cultural competency and awareness: African American cultural identity is important, and should be used to establish a positive dialogue between those who seek help and the professionals who provide treatment. Awareness efforts with an African American focus can help provide the necessary education to reduce the stigma within the community.
- Increase the amount of services available in underserved areas: Since 2009, mental health funds have been cut by $1.6 billion across the country. Those who rely on public services for mental health care and treatment have been at a disadvantage, as resources have gotten harder to find. Greater access to these services will allow those who need treatment to get help quicker.
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