Unveiling the Realities of African Americans’ Mental Health in Washington D.C.

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Currently, Washington D.C., has a population density of 11,535 people per square mile, of these, according to the most recent ACS, the racial composition of the city is 45.39% Black or African American [1] . This article explores the tip of the iceberg of the factors contributing to disparities in mental healthcare, examine the underlying social determinants of it and highlight some strategies for addressing the unique challenges faced by African Americans in Washington D.C.

“African Americans are largely the descendants of enslaved people who were brought from their African homelands by force to work in the New World. Their rights were severely limited, and they were long denied a rightful share in the economic, social, and political progress of the United States [2] .”

What happens at the intersection of mental health and one’s experience as a member of the African American community? While the experience of being Black in America varies tremendously. “According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than White adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness and feeling like everything is an effort [3] .”

According to  Mass General Brigham (McLean Hospital [4]), “25% of Black people seek mental health treatment when needed, compared to 40% of White people.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has declared racism a serious threat to public health that has placed communities of color at greater risk for poor health outcomes [5] .

Furthermore, Dr. Thomas Laveist, Chair of Georgetown University’s Department of Health Policy and Management considers that “We have fallen into a traditional pattern. We say ‘black don’t crack’, and we subscribe to the belief that we don’t. We are cracking, especially in terms of mental health. We have this cultural Christianity, where we turn to our places of worship to treat our mental health [6] .”

The American Psychiatric Association [7]  gives us some important facts about the mental health of this population:

  • About 27% of African Americans live below the poverty level compared to about 10.8% of non-Hispanic whites.
  • Approximately 11% of African Americans are not covered by health insurance, compared with about 7% for non-Hispanic whites.
  • Death rates for African Americans are higher than for Whites when it comes to heart diseases, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza and pneumonia, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, and homicide.
  • Only one-in-three African Americans who need mental health care receives it.

“While all of our communities face mental health challenges, Black communities often deal with more stigma and discrimination, and can receive compromised care [8] .”. Additionally, “according to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than White adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness and feeling like everything is an effort. Black adults living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to report serious psychological distress than those with more financial security.”

As an African American, how can I care for myself [9]?

  1. Acknowledge your feelings.
  2. Create communities.
  3. Prioritize self-care with boundaries.
  4. Seek therapy.

In conclusion, addressing the health disparities faced by African Americans requires a multifaceted approach. It demands targeted interventions to tackle social determinants of health, improve access to quality healthcare services and promote health equity. Remember that you can contact the professionals at Neighbors’ Consejo [10] , they are ready to give you a helping hand with your emotional wellbeing, for free. 












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