Terri K. Lankford, LPCS
Juneteenth: Continuing Advocacy for Black Mental Health
Officially, Juneteenth celebrates June 19th, (hence June + nineteenth) 1865, the day when troops were finally able to let enslaved Black people in Texas know they had been legally freed after Robert E. Lee surrendered in April of that year. 1865, by the way, was an entire two years after the Emancipation Proclamation promised freedom to Black individuals living in Confederate territories which were largely on the East Coast. Despite the events on the original Juneteenth, many individuals were still enslaved in and outside of Texas until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment which legally abolished slavery for all United States territories - though Jim Crow laws, which upheld segregation and perpetuated unequal treatment of Black Americans, wouldn’t be ruled unconstitutional until 1964.
Though the actual date only recently became a federal holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1865 as a promise for equal rights for Black Americans. As mental health therapists and those seeking to end mental health stigma, we can continue the legacy of change and movement towards equity in the therapy room.
Sixteen percent of Black Americans report experiencing a mental health condition within the last year. This equates to just under five million Americans. Yet, Black individuals are far less likely than white individuals to seek or receive mental health treatment. Just some reasons for Black individuals to not receive mental health treatment are:
A disproportionate number of Black Americans, especially males, are jailed, which can severely reduce or completely remove adequate mental health treatment
Black individuals report more mental health stigma in their community regarding seeking help
11.5% of Black Americans are under- or not insured, reducing treatment options
12.3% of Black individuals report difficulty getting the care they need, which is nearly twice the percent of white individuals who report the same experience
Less than 2% of American Psychological Association (APA) members are of a minority group, leading marginalized individuals to feel concern regarding representation in the mental health field
Black individuals are misdiagnosed or overdiagnosed in higher rates than white individuals for multiple mental health conditions
With these statistics, it’s not hard to imagine why Black Americans aren’t receiving the mental health treatment they need: mental health facilities are out of reach, out of an insurance network, or out of cultural competence for so many people. What can we do as mental health therapists or supporters of therapy, then, to increase accessibility for Black Americans? Here are three ways:
Normalize Mental Health Treatment
One of the leading causes of not seeking mental health treatment is stigma in the community. In all communities, we see this happening through our use of language - for example, mentioning a hospitalized family member is “crazy” is one way we alienate those who seek treatment for serious mental health conditions. Another way we spread stigma is through news reports - when we report that someone who commits a crime has a mental health condition, we communicate that those with mental health disorders are criminals. Spiritual practices may also contribute to this mental health stigma - some may feel that religion is an appropriate replacement for therapy, viewing the two as incompatible.
One way we can reduce stigma for mental health treatment in marginalized communities is by uplifting voices of those advocating for therapy services. Professionals and creators like Therapy To A Tea, Therapy for Black Girls, and The Nap Ministry share mental health resources for Black individuals, by Black individuals.
Deliver Treatment Holistically
For some, privilege means mental health is as simple as going to therapy. For others, mental health is out of reach because their basic needs aren’t being met. For example, therapy is harder to focus on when affordable housing is out of reach. Getting mental health care is not on the top of the priority list when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from. Mental health counseling may not be safe for you when you’re experiencing abuse at home.
For some, mental health is as easy as reaching out to a counselor. For others, mental health means affordable housing, being safe in public and in your home, food security, healthcare, and having basic needs met - all issues faced in higher amounts in the Black community. Connecting Black Americans with resources to help with these issues alongside advocating for systemic change is just one way to deliver holistic care.
Provide Culturally Competent Care
In the last five years, 86% of mental health providers have been white. Less than 4% have been Black. While being a white provider certainly doesn’t mean you can’t provide culturally-competent care, there has been an egregious history of racism in the mental health field. It’s understandable why Black Americans may feel hesitant to trust providers, especially those of a different cultural background.
While we cannot change our ethnic or cultural background, we can ensure we are seeking out resources to provide culturally competent care. As therapists, it's our ethical duty to cause no harm - which means it's also our ethical duty to educate ourselves, work through our own biases, and receive current multicultural training.
In honor of Juneteenth, we hope this blog inspires you to continue the advocacy work that began in 1865 - we’re far from finished. If you’re looking for mental health treatment, we have providers that would love to talk to you. Reach out today to get connected. We look forward to hearing from you!