This month is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and so we turn our attention to those minorities with mental health issues – minorities who have a different experience within the system than others. This article turns its focus onto the African American male and how they fare in the mental healthcare system.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. And the American Psychological Association says that of the almost 34 million people who identify as African American, 22% live in poverty. There are a few factors that make this percentage at extensive risk for mental illness including their over-representation in the homeless population; people incarcerated, kids in foster care as well as child welfare systems, and victims of serious violent crime.

And the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports these stats on the relationship between mental health issues and African Americans.

  • Poverty level affects mental health status. African Americans living below the poverty level, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are 3 times more likely to report psychological distress.
  • African Americans are 10% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic whites.
  • The death rate from suicide for African American men was more than four times greater than for African American women, in 2014.
  • However, the suicide rate for African Americans is 70% lower than that of the non-Hispanic white population.
  • A report from the U.S. Surgeon General found that from 1980 – 1995, the suicide rate among African Americans ages 10 to 14 increased 233%, as compared to 120% of non-Hispanic whites.

The numbers are broken down for African-Americans over 18 years of age in 2013-2014 thusly:

Serious Psychological Distress:

Non-Hispanic Black 3.4%

Serious Psychological Distress Among African American Adults Percent Of Poverty Level:

Below 100% 7.4%

100%-Less Than 200% 3.5%

200%-Less Than 400% 2.3%

Percent of population with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or that everything is an effort, all of the time:

Sadness 3.6%

Hopelessness 2.3%

Worthlessness 1.7%

Everything An Effort 9.5%

Percent of Male population with feelings of sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, or that everything is an effort, all the time:

Sadness 3.1%

Hopelessness 2.1%

Worthlessness 1.5%

Everything An Effort 8.9%

Percent of population with feelings of nervousness or restlessness:

Nervousness, all or most of the time 4.0%

Restlessness, all or most of the time 5.4%

Age-Adjusted Death Rates for suicide:

African American Male 5.5%

Death rates for suicide by age:

15-24yrs 12%

25-44yrs 14.3%

45-64yrs 9.9%

65+yrs 8.9%

All Ages 9.4%

According to the US Surgeon General, Almost 40% of the youth in the criminal justice system and 45% of children in foster care are African American. This suggests that psychologists should be working to eliminate or reduce behaviors prevalent in foster care kids, including aggression, fighting, negativity, and isolation.

Further, over 25% of African American youth who have been exposed to violence have also proven to be at high risk for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This suggests that psychologists should be teaching community intervention methods including techniques such as dialog and coalition building, including interpersonal communication, negotiation, mediation, and community organizing.

Nearly twice as many African Americans than non-Hispanic whites are likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Fortunately, psychologists can help here, allowing people to live independent lives by showing them to handle the symptoms and effects of schizophrenia, such as voices or delusions.

Unfortunately, studies suggest African Americans are at just as much risk for mental illness as Caucasians, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans were 7.3 times likely to live in high poverty neighborhoods with limited to no access to mental health services, preventing them from seeking the same access others have. In fact, the Atlanta Black Star reported in 2015 that PTSD has been on the rise in African American communities due to the increase of racial violence nationwide and daily exposure to oppression in our neighborhoods.

Adding to those issues is that almost a quarter of African Americans are uninsured and so are more likely to use emergency and/or primary care specialists. Sadly, this limits their options as professionals in these environments often lack the correct training in both diagnoses and treatment of mental and behavioral health issues. They should be seeing psychologists but that option isn’t available.

A sobering and comprehensive report by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health says that among those aged 12 or older, African Americans and persons from other racial and ethnic groups were equally likely to need treatment for substance use in the past year. That is, 9.1 percent of blacks (2.6 million persons) and 9.3 percent of persons from other racial and ethnic groups (20.4 million persons) needed treatment for illicit drug or alcohol use. Although African Americans were less likely than persons from other racial and ethnic groups to need treatment for alcohol use (6.8 vs. 7.8 percent), they were more likely to need treatment for illicit drug use (4.1 vs. 3.0 percent).

How we perceive ourselves and our needs also plays a part in who gets seen and for what. An estimated 2.2 million African Americans needed but did not receive specialty substance use treatment in the past year, compared with 18.4 million persons for other racial and ethnic groups. Among African Americans who needed but did not receive substance use treatment, 92.0 percent did not feel the need for treatment, 5.2 percent felt the need for treatment but did not make an effort to get it, and 2.8 percent felt the need for treatment and made an effort to get it. In comparison, among persons from other racial and ethnic groups, 95.1 percent did not feel the need for treatment, 3.5 percent felt the need for treatment but did not make an effort to get it, and 1.4 percent felt the need for treatment and made an effort to get it.

At the end of the day, African-Americans are more likely to need illicit drug use treatment than individuals from other racial and ethnic groups. Among those who needed treatment for illicit drug or alcohol use in the past year, African Americans are more likely than persons from other racial and ethnic groups to receive specialty treatment. African Americans with a substance use problem are more likely to recognize their need for treatment and more likely to make an effort to receive specialty treatment.