Research shows that people from Black communities are more likely to have worse health outcomes, a shorter life expectancy and find it harder to access healthcare than the rest of the populace. One of the key barriers is the stigma that exists within Black communities around engaging with mental healthcare services, and in particular, talking therapies. This is for a whole host of reasons, from cultural norms about not sharing problems outside of the community to the language barriers that abound for some when communicating with mental health professionals.
One of the key issues for Black communities is not seeing themselves or their experiences reflected in the mental health professionals that they approach for help. We need more people from diverse backgrounds to train as therapists, and more work needs to be done to develop the teaching in learning institutions to incorporate the complexities of race, gender, sexuality and relationship diversity in order that trainees are better equipped to meet the needs of their clients. I really admire the amazing work that the organisation The 4Front Project carries out to support young people who have suffered trauma, violence and racial injustice.
In the media, you will often see Black women characterised as unstoppable, strong characters. This can be in the form of a superhero who fights against racial injustice, the listener or the caretaker. This framework of thinking has seeped into the daily lives of many Black women, placing grand expectations onto many. African-American women are less likely to have access to mental healthcare, and are prone to burnout and stress. While these expectations may not be inherently bad, they deprive Black women across the globe of their autonomy to define their own path and shape their own identity.
There is a growing collective who are calling for Black women to reject these expectations, to not act or bear the burden of social injustice. Tricia Hersey, an artist, and theologian, is a leading figure in the movement. In 2016, she founded The Nap Ministry, a collective that examines the power of rest through collective nap sessions, lectures and community workshops, prioritising rest as radical resistance, particularly for Black women. Rest Is Resistance is a manifesto by Tricia Hersey rooted in spiritual energy and centred on Black liberation, womanism, somatics, and Afrofuturism and liberation theology to show how to collectively deprogramme, decolonise and unravel us from the wreckage of capitalism and white supremacy.
Munroe Bergdorf is an advocate for vital and urgent care and support for transgender youth and their wellbeing, as well as offering a platform that advocates for inclusivity – all races, abilities, sexualities and gender identities. She offers space for intersectional queer people to have a voice and share experiences. Being open about her own mental health and talking about how it doesn’t define her enables her to connect with her community and talk about her identity openly and vulnerably. It’s easy to see why she has become such an icon among the LGBTQ+ community, and why as queer people we need to talk more openly about mental health and the obstacles we face.
A lot of Black people who have autism don’t receive appropriate support or are struggling to get a diagnosis. Many families don’t feel confident about confiding in professionals because they might feel patronised or their cultures might be misunderstood. People with disabilities and neurodivergents suffer stigma in some circles, and some communities blame the parents.
These are recurring themes when it comes to Black healthcare, where there is a breakdown in trust in the institutions that exist to protect us. Catina Burkett, a Black woman with autism, explores how a lack of understanding of her autism – plus the fact she is a Black woman – can often present limitations through other people’s own internalised biases. She says: ‘To dispel harmful stereotypes, researchers must include and track autistic Black people. For adult Black women with autism to get programmes and services that address our needs, researchers first need to acknowledge that we exist.’
One of the feel-good stories in the run-up to the impending World Cup (doom and gloom) is that England’s first-ever Black footballer has been recognised for his call-up with a statue at his club, Plymouth Argyle. A former East Ender and a humble man, in his granddaughter’s words, Leslie would have asked: ‘What is the fuss about?’
But it is important to recognise not only what this man did when racism was rife at a time of segregation and slavery, but what he achieved for all of us who benefit today. Ironically, Jack Leslie was dropped when the selection committee realised that he was Black and of Jamaican descent. With much of the recent focus on racism in football coming from the abuse hurled at the young lions after the loss against Italy in the Euros, we can only hope that this is a stark reminder of the significant journey that Black people and players have endured for hundreds of years, and a topic of conversation that continues to be as important as it has ever been, both in the stands and in the schools.
If a picture tells a thousand words, then does the absence of a picture deprive us of this same amount? Founded in 2015 by Renata Cherlise, Black Archives is a multimedia platform that brings a spotlight to the Black experience. Through an expansive visual exploration (around 11m pictures), Black Archives provides a dynamic accessibility to a Black past, present and future. Going beyond the norm, its lens examines the nuances of Black life: alive and ever-vibrant to both the everyday and the iconic – providing insight and inspiration to those seeking to understand the legacies that preceded their own, minus traditional disturbing agendas.
‘I feel a great responsibility to bring the under-told stories of Black life to the forefront. Our existence is multi-faceted, and I’m drawn to and focused on curating imagery that brings those stories to the surface in often quiet and subtle ways.’
Renata Cherlise, founder, Black Archives
Rapper Dave’s debut, introspective and Mercury prize-winning album, Psychodrama, was, in his words, ‘his journey to resilience’. But the album is more than its official accolades. Psychodrama (named after role-play therapy used in prisons) highlights struggles with race and youth violence; Dave unpacks his own experiences of mental health, identity, the prison system, social injustices (close to home and globally) and domestic violence with the support of a therapist.
And while music’s ability to address and unpick the problems in society is well documented, to have these topics wrapped up through therapy sessions, streamed through major platforms isn’t just affirming, but is fundamental to destigmatising mental illness, and getting help – especially when Black Britons are less likely to receive the support they need if they are struggling with mental health problems.
Fiona Compton started the KnowYourCarribbean Instagram platform to teach people about their history, and she quickly gained over 183k followers. While Fiona may not realise it, she has provided a sense of belonging, community and mental wellness by bringing her lived experiences of racism, having a child with autism, and providing a sense of home, identity and self-worth to the Caribbean diaspora and their descendants. She also co-hosts the (Relate)able podcast with friends, which is a safe space for open and honest conversations created unapologetically for Black people. Fiona is an Ambassador for Notting Hill Carnival and works tirelessly to promote the wellness aspect of what Carnival means to the Caribbean people.
When it comes to mental health disorders, we have only just scratched the surface when it comes to understanding the struggles people face. Thankfully, many are beginning to recognise the impact of depression and anxiety, with several high-profile names citing their difficulties with it. However, disorders like schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder and hoarding still face deep shame and a lack of empathy. That is why it was so courageous for Jennifer Lewis to discuss her experiences with bipolar disorder in her 2017 memoir “The Mother of Black Hollywood.” Initially, when Jennifer was diagnosed, she refused medication stating “I’m Jenifer Lewis! You think I’m gonna walk around like a fucking zombie? And y’all take my edge?!”. Eventually, she accepted that taking medication was not to dampen her character, but to help treat a serious psychotic disorder. Jennifer now hopes that telling her story will help end the social stigma surrounding mental health, particularly among people of the global majority. She has proven that you can be Black with a mental illness and extremely successful at the same time.
This article is part of our Diversity & Inclusion work at The Future Laboratory. Explore our work on D&I on our blog and discover what steps we are taking to make a better tomorrow happen.
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