Black Mental Health Matters
October 6, 2021
“I say put mental health first because if you don’t then you’re not going to enjoy your sport and you’re not going to succeed as much as you want to.” – Simone Biles
One of our most common recommendations for self-care, or healing, is taking care of our mental health through therapy and counseling. Therapy can be such a powerful tool, if you have the right therapist. For those that we serve, and advocates in the field, that hold marginalized identities, finding a therapist that shares even one of your identities can be profoundly difficult. In 2018 data collected by Zippia, it was found that of the 198,811 therapists identified as employed in the US, 70.4% were women and 77% were White (note: there was no data listed for gender or sexual identity of therapists on this site). Before I continue, I’ll preface this post with my identities- I am a White, cisgender woman with a Masters in Social Work from a predominantly White institution (PWI).
Not being able to find a therapist that you can connect with, whether that be in age, race, culture, gender, or sexual identity has a huge impact on whether or not finding a therapist will take longer and be more difficult, and once you do find someone, the lack of shared identities may make the trust building and therapeutic process more challenging. I was listening to an interview on one of my favorite podcasts the other day where this issue was brought up. Roy Wood Jr. of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah was interviewing two of his Black colleagues, X Mayo and Ashton Womack, about Black mental health and the difference that having a Black therapist can make. Ashton opens up about his own experiences looking for a Black therapist while he was battling depression as well as research he discovered while writing material for a segment on The Daily Show. What he shared aligns with the data points listed above. There were very few Black therapists, and culturally competent therapists. Additionally he shares the stigma that is prevalent in the Black community around mental health. This stigma is, at least, partially rooted in histories of abuse and not being believed by health care systems, including mental health care, and can be a deterrent in seeking traditional therapeutic services. Ashton’s first inclination before seeking support from a licensed therapist was to access support through a church leader whom he trusts. I share this anecdote to highlight both the importance of finding a therapist that you can trust and feel comfortable with, and that pushing therapy as self-care doesn’t work for every person and we must recognize the very real barriers that people face and meet them where they are.
One thing we can do as advocates is know who the culturally competent providers in our community are and/ or how to help someone access a therapist that has shared identities (if that’s important to them). Rachel Cargle is a Black American activist, author, and speaker who started the Loveland Foundation. The Loveland Foundation is dedicated to helping Black women and girls find and access culturally competent therapy through connection and funds. If you’re working with a Black survivor that is interested in accessing therapy but is struggling to find the right therapist or pay for therapy the Loveland Foundation may be able to help. In addition, here are other resources for you to explore to find culturally competent therapists:
*Note: these resources are specific to serving the Black community
I started this blog post with a quote from Simone Biles because her withdrawal from the final individual all- around competition at the Tokyo Olympics, citing her mental health as the reason she needed to step back, sparked an international conversation on the importance of mental health. I know many advocates not only recognized and heard the call for more of an emphasis on mental wellness for elite athletes, but also a reminder that people do not exist in vacuums and their identities are not separate. Simone Biles is a young Black woman, an athlete, and a survivor. The survivors we serve are also athletes, parents, friends, advocates, students, and to Simone’s quote all have a “sport” of sorts that’s important to them. The survivors we serve all hold varying identities, come from different backgrounds, and have diverse needs. It is imperative that when we talk to clients about self- care strategies, such as therapeutic support, that we honor all of their identities and facilitate connections to providers and resources that will make them feel heard, seen, and supported.
To listen to the full Daily Show episode, click here