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Supporting the Black Community as a Mental Health First Aider

As we celebrate Black History Month, we want to acknowledge what mental health means in the Black community and share resources to help you support your peers, friends, and communities as a Mental Health First Aider.

As a Mental Health First Aider, you are certified to use this life-saving training to assist people of all races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds and identities, helping them get the additional information and support they may need. To be effective, and to honor their diversity, it is crucial to take your peers’ identities and lived experiences into account when having conversations: The ways they identify will inform their approaches to mental health.

Understanding attitudes towards mental health — and how they differ from culture to culture — gives you an advantage as a First Aider and ensures that you can offer support to your community in the best way possible.

Disparities and Inequities

In The Costs and Consequences of Disparities in Behavioral Health Care, the National Conference of State Legislatures reported, “Each year, people belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups experience worse behavioral health status and treatment outcomes, along with more difficulty accessing services, than their peers in other groups.” The Black community feels this disparity acutely. For example:

  1. Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.
  2. Black adults are more likely to report feelings of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness than white adults, but less than 9% of Black adults receive mental health services, compared to 18.6% of white adults.
  3. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “Black Americans are also more likely to be exposed to factors that increase the risk for developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness and exposure to violence.”
  4. Over 25% of Black youth who have been exposed to violence have been shown to be at high risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The legacy of slavery and racism, as well as the current realities of racial oppression and violence, have also impacted the ease of access to mental health care. And for some Black Americans, the added weight of stigma against seeking mental health care means many are less likely to reach out for help when they need it. Other factors like lack of health insurance, lack of childcare, difficulty taking time off work, and a general mistrust of medical doctors also impede some from getting the care they need. (A 2018 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures does a great job of highlighting inequities in mental health care by race, including the reasons why many cannot or do not utilize services available to them.)

How Mental Health First Aiders Can Help

For those who can and do seek care, it can be difficult to find a provider who demonstrates cultural competency. As a First Aider, you are well-positioned to help fill these gaps and provide people around you with the information and resources they may need:

  1. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s Addressing Health Equity and Racial Justice web page has recorded webinars, assessments and other tools. Explore it to get a better picture of mental health for minorities and be the best First Aider for people around you.
  2. The National Council’s Equity Definitions guide will help you understand appropriate language for use when discussing mental health topics with racially diverse individuals.
  3. The University of Michigan created Racism and Anti-Racism in America, a free training series on dismantling systemic racism.
  4. During NatCon at Home (NatCon20), Victor Armstrong, director of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, presented Perception Is Everything: The Impact of Implicit Bias in Mental Health & Addictions
  5. The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity presents its Implicit Bias Module Series, a free training that helps you explore what implicit bias is, how it may be affecting your life and how you can avoid it.

Taking some time to address implicit biases and understand the current state of mental health for Black Americans ensures that you can #BeTheDifference for people around you and make mental health care much more accessible for those in need.


Resource Guide:

American Psychological Association. (2017). African Americans have limited access to mental and behavioral health care.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2020, June 4). ADAA stands against racism.

Armstrong, Victor. (2020, July 17). Perception is everything. The impact of racial bias in mental health & addictions [Video]. NatCon20.

Celestine, S. (2019, December 4). African Americans face unique mental health risks. WebMD.

Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. (2018). Implicit bias module series. Ohio State University.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (n.d.) Addressing health equity and racial justice.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (n.d.) Addressing Trauma, Racism, and Bias in Behavioral Health Service Delivery, part 1.

National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (n.d.) Equity definitions.

University of Michigan. (n.d.) Racism and anti-racism in America. Michigan Online.

Wile, M., & Goodwin, K. (2018, February). The consequences of disparities in behavioral health Care. National Conference of State Legislatures.

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