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Entry M

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of mental health awareness has experienced a profound transformation. As the world grappled with the universal effects of isolation, anxiety, and grief brought on by the pandemic, I discovered the struggles of the Black community that remain suppressed in the shadows, yearning to join the spotlight of a global conversation on mental well-being.

From the psychiatric diagnosis of “drapetomania”—the labeling of runaway slaves as mentally ill—to portraying the Black population as “schizophrenics” or “animals” in the emergence of cinema with films such as The Birth of a Nation, society has historically placed many dehumanizing labels onto the Black community. These labels have altered societal perceptions of the Black community, resulting in systemic, intergenerational mistrust between Black people and healthcare.

Our current healthcare system disadvantages low-income families with expensive insurance policies that restrict their access to mental health services. I've been distraught to witness family members overlooking mental health concerns due to insurance limitations, undermining their own well-being. Even if a Black person is able to afford and access mental health services, they must face the criticisms of the greater Black community itself. After reading a study that discussed how over 60% of observed Black people viewed depression as a personal weakness, I began to realize that members of the Black community refuse to acknowledge the actual gravity of mental illness—electing to dismiss it as a weak mind or troubled spirit. For years I’ve heard classic black parenting comments such as “Stop all that damn crying” or “Black folks don’t go to therapy”, I finally saw how these sayings promoted the belief that mental health is a trivial topic. After generations of trauma responses like internalizing our emotions to survive through events such as slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights movement, and police brutality, we’ve now made the mistake of no longer allowing the Black community to express themselves.

Furthermore, the Black community's perception of mental health is heavily influenced by the prevailing feeling of being misunderstood in clinical settings. The majority of mental health professionals being white and struggling to grasp the nuances of Black culture exacerbates this issue. The alarming statistic that only 2% of psychiatrists are Black compounds the problem, leaving Black individuals feeling uncomfortable in healthcare environments where their cultural backgrounds are often overlooked. This solely fuels my desire to work within the mental health industry as I realize the urgency at which we need to help black individuals feel safe about discussing their feelings.

Intriguingly, this subject sheds light on the intersection of culture, history, and mental health, highlighting the profound impact of systemic factors on individuals' well-being that I’ve seen first-hand. I want to continue to delve deeper into the experiences of individuals within the Black community and how historical trauma continues to affect their mental being. I understand that members of the Black community are now just beginning to become vocal about their issues and I’m ready to be part of a Black generation who can view those who shine a light on their issues as no longer weak, but even stronger.

Phillip Mathangani Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
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