Black History Month and Mental Health

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African-Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. A commemoration that invites us to remember, but also to think about the population in question. For example, the state of their mental health [1] .

Many Americans do not know that throughout U.S. history, many black people have been pioneers in mental health [2] . For example, Herman George Canady, Ph.D., was credited with being the first psychologist to study the influence of rapport between an IQ test proctor and the subject; E. Kitch Childs, Ph.D., helped to found the Association for Women in Psychology, she was also a founding member of Chicago’s Gay Liberation Front; M, Joycelyn Elders, M.D., was the first African American and the second woman to be sworn in as the Surgeon General of the U.S., she advocated for universal health coverage, comprehensive health education, including sex education in schools.

Surely, one of the social factors that these pioneers shared was racism, a situation that even today continues to affect the mental health of this population. The Oxford Dictionary [3]  defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”. This situation, according to a report delivered by The Bureau of Labor Statistics [4] , is evidenced in employment, for example, where 54% of employed Asians worked in management, professional, and related occupations – the highest-paying major occupational category – compared with 41% of employed Whites, 31% of employed Blacks, and 22% of employed Hispanics”.

It also adds that, in 2018, the average Black worker earned just 62% of what the average White worker made. Other figures relating to racism are provided by Statista [5] , which reports that in 2020, Black victims of race-based hate crime in the U.S. numbered 3,915.

Systemic racism, compounded with substance abuse, poverty, lack of employment and opportunities, and other factors, affect the mental health of the African-American population. In the U.S., 13.4% of the population identify themselves as Black or African-American, of those, over 16% reported having a mental illness in the past year. This totals over 7 million people, more than the populations of Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia combined [6] .

It is important to make this situation visible because, over the years, this population has contributed enormously to the United States while suffering disadvantages and racism. It is always good to talk about “what is not seen” so that we all have a more emotionally stable society. We should all walk in each other’s shoes to understand where each of us comes from and is going.








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