By Christopher Trotman, LMSW, Behavioral Health Manager
To the men and women out there who look like me: we may not know each other, but I do know some things about us:
• African Americans are 20% more likely to have serious psychological distress than White people.
• We receive mental health treatment at 50% the rate of White people.
• Many Black adults, especially older adults, view mental illness as a weakness.
Heartbreaking, isn’t it? As a Black man and mental health therapist living in America, just know that I hear your pain and I’m thinking about you. Be it racism, financial barriers, or familial shame, none of it is your fault – you and your loved ones deserve to feel heard and get the help you need. The fact that getting professional help is so difficult in modern day America is not fair to you or anyone else, but we sure as hell don’t have to accept it. I didn’t, and that’s why I became a therapist.
If you’ve ever been told you’re weak, broken, fake, or anything other than human, don’t let it keep you from taking action. There’s no better time than now to lift each other up and destigmatize mental health in our communities. So, let’s get started.
The Power of “Everyone” in the Fight Against Mental Health Stigma
Me and my team at our All Team Gathering in January 2023.
I joined evolvedMD in October 2022 for three reasons: 1) Their radically different approach to mental health; 2) Their impact on primary care patients during an unprecedented crisis; and 3) Their commitment to “Everyone.”
“Everyone” is not just a core value woven into the fabric of our people-centered culture; it’s an oath to those who’ve given up on a broken system, an investment into diversity and inclusion, a pledge to create a stronger society and a fairer future, and ultimately the missing ingredient for reducing stigma and normalizing care.
Below I propose some strategies for tackling stigma in Black and African communities and how “Everyone” fits into the equation.
1) Integrate Behavioral Health in Primary Care.
Research shows that Blacks and African Americans are more likely to seek help in emergency rooms or primary care rather than from mental health specialists. What if there were a therapist at your preferred primary care practice just down the hall from your PCP, ready to see you immediately?
The Power of “Everyone” in Action: A fragmented system calls for a comprehensive solution. In my view, there is nothing more comprehensive than the collaborative care model. This means embedding mental health therapists within a collaborative team led by a patient’s PCP to drive improved clinical outcomes. Add a psychiatric consultant and a care coordinator to the mix and you’ve got a dedicated team of qualified professionals to deliver wraparound services at the practice you’re most comfortable visiting, all without judgment or discrimination. If your primary care practice doesn’t integrate behavioral health already, share this article with your provider and tell them your community will greatly benefit from integrated services.
2) Bring Affordable Mental Health Resources into Black Communities.
People often don’t get the help they need because they don’t know where find it. And if they do find a therapist they’re likely hit with sticker shock, up to $200 per session. This is unacceptable when nearly 20% of African Americans live below the poverty line.
The Power of “Everyone” in Action: Bridging the mental health access gap for minority communities starts with leveraging free or low-cost programs. For example, The Confess Project of America train barbers and stylists to become advocates for their customers and build a culture of mental health for Black boys, men, and their families. To date, the organization has trained over 2,000 barbers in almost 50 cities across the country, impacting over 2.4 million people per year. Black Girls Smile, Inc. empower Black women and girls to lead mentally healthy lives, offering customizable educational wellness programs, hands-on workshops, and therapy assistance to alleviate financial burden.
3) Invest In + Incentivize Black Mental Health Professionals.
Only 5% of America’s psychology workforce are Black and African American, yet an unprecedented demand for Black therapists keeps increasing. Be it similar upbringings, the brutal murders of Black men and women by people of power, or shared experiences with stigma and race-related trauma, many Black people only feel comfortable confiding in others who look like them. That’s not easy when over 80% of mental health professionals are Caucasian.
The Power of “Everyone” in Action: In 2021, the American Psychological Association issued an apology to People of Color for its role in contributing to systemic inequities, racial discrimination, and more. The apology offers an extensive list of proposed solutions, including prioritizing efforts in training, developing, and diversifying the mental health workforce. If we promote opportunities for Black professionals to pursue careers in mental health, enhance the visibility of the diverse workforce, ensure fair and equitable pay, offer scholarships for graduate training, and more, you will see a steady increase in Black therapists like me ready to serve our community’s unmet needs.
4) Redefine What It Means to Be Strong.
Far too many times I’ve heard someone say that talking about mental health and asking for help is a sign of weakness. One study found that 63% of Black people believe mental illness is a sign of weakness. When we tear people down for being vulnerable, we rob them of any strength they once had to seek help.
The Power of “Everyone” in Action: Repeat after me: “Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.” The sooner we shout this from the rooftops, the sooner minorities will feel comfortable in their own skin. Silence, and silencing, won’t resolve anything – it will cause worse anxiety and worry when we need to build resilience.
5) Speak up and be an advocate.
Are you still healing from your trauma? Others may be healing from similar traumas, too. Either way, speaking up about mental health when it seems like no one else is listening can positively impact you and the community you reside in.
The Power of “Everyone” in Action: I understand better than anyone that talking about mental health can be a difficult first step for people who feel the need to suffer in silence. If you have Black family members, Black friends, or Black colleagues, be an advocate by following these steps:
- Reach out and ask if they’re okay.
- Practice active listening.
- Encourage them to take action by scheduling an appointment with their PCP, therapist, or both – especially if they work in the same primary care practice.
- Check in regularly.
- Remind them that it’s okay to not be okay.
The power of “Everyone” is critical to reducing mental health stigma, promoting overall well-being, and creating a more inclusive society. I’m proud to work for a company who truly lives its values by weaving them into the incredible work we do every day. When everyone comes together for change, we create a healthier, more equitable future that leaves no one behind.
Learn more about evolvedMD’s unique approach to
reducing stigma and increasing access to high-quality mental health services.
Chris came to Arizona to escape the harsh Baltimore winters and advance his behavioral health career. He earned his Master's of Social Work from the University of Maryland and has enjoyed making a significant, positive impact on both pediatric and adult populations in a variety of settings. In his free time he loves spending time with his wife and dog and binge-watching the latest shows.