Why are we so scared of therapy? A Focus on the Black Community

Written by Yomi Olusunle a current NTU Psychology MSc Student

The Black community is beautiful, colourful and communal. Despite being from different countries, backgrounds and cultures, we are very similar in terms of our music, religion, diversity and food. But can we really say all similarities are good? From my experience, we have a shared antagonism towards mental illnesses, and a strong bias against therapy and people living with mental health conditions. In my experience, within the Black community mentally ill people can often be demonised, and mental illness is seen to have a contagion effect. Another vital example is how our TV shows portray mental illnesses. People don’t talk about their struggles, and are encouraged to keep it hush hush, or the very popular “you’re not prayerful enough” is levelled at them. Discussing life’s challenges with an outsider i.e. a therapist is seen as airing your dirty laundry and often highly discouraged. For some others, they assume that since they don’t have a diagnosed mental health issue there is absolutely no need to see a therapist.

A fundamental reason limiting Black people from seeking therapy is the persistent racial trauma, structural inequalities and marginalisation we have been exposed to. When you look at the historical antecedents surrounding the psychotherapy field, it has mostly consisted of straight white men, which further entrenches the inaccessibility of therapy to Black people. A lot of Black people are scared that the therapist will not fully understand or be able to accommodate their cultural or racial experiences. Saying ‘Black people don’t go to therapy’ does not fully depict the circumstances that make it increasingly difficult for Black people – a study by Awosan, Sandberg & Hall, 2011  pointed to a lack of cultural understanding and stigma about cultural understanding as core reasons why therapy is frowned upon in our communities.

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, it was no surprise that the Black community was disproportionately affected.  COVID-19 has clearly highlighted a number of flaws in the world’s healthcare systems, as well as problems associated with health inequity. There is a lot of evidence that people identifying with minority and diverse ethnic groups have far higher risks of being negatively affected by COVID-19. There have always been mental health inequalities in our community that have now been aggravated by the pandemic. The quarantine and isolation have also made accessing support for our mental health more difficult. 

As well as the pandemic, the Black community have been exposed to a lot of racial trauma stemming from the murder of George Floyd. It was difficult, heart wrenching and painful to watch that video. This sparked a series of protests in June 2020 globally. It’s important to note that a few days before this sad incident, 27 year old Breonna Taylor was killed in her living room, further aggravating the community. 

Racial trauma manifests in anxiety, depression, PTSD etc. and this has a negative ripple effect on the society as a whole.

Therapy isn’t bad, seeking help is not shameful. Things are changing and improving, but not fast enough. The media is playing an instrumental role in building conversations around mental health, thereby helping Black people be more receptive to seeking professional help. As a matter of fact, it is incredibly brave and courageous to admit that you’re struggling and you need help. Mental health does not discriminate based on age, gender, sex, race, social class or sexuality, it can affect anyone at any point in their lives, so it’s important to be receptive to seeking professional help. Mental health is an instrumental aspect of physical well being and general wellness – they go hand in hand.

Humans require an avenue for the many challenges and injustices we may encounter on a regular basis. We should have a safe space where we can discuss how prejudice affects us, and how to deal with it in a meaningful and effective way. Hanging on to your sorrow, anger, rage, and grief can make you resentful and unhappy, which isn’t a fun way to live. Once you discover a good psychologist, psychotherapy may be a great place to get help and learn new ways to cope. This is the only area where you don’t have to know everything. It’s a point that all you have to worry about is yourself and your requirements.

For help and advice whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.

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