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Mental Health Disparities for Black People in America: Spirituality and Community

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the experiences of minority groups or the disparities and oppression they face every day. I am a counselor and this is the result of my personal research on the subject in hopes to educate and help others with the information I find.


Spirituality has been important to the Black community and their culture for quite some time. According to recent studies on the religious landscape of black people in America, 79% of black people in America describe themselves as Christian. 3% report that they are of a non-Christian religion. 18% list “none” or “nothing in particular” for their religion (Pew Research Center, 2019).

These statistics show a greater importance of spirituality and religious community for African American people than for the general American population.

Spiritual impact on mental health

The best account of religion’s impact on mental wellness in the black community (in my professional opinion) is Narratives of the Black Taboo: Suicide. Please read for yourself, but this article written by a graduate student and survivor of suicidal thoughts who grew up in the religious black community is an amazing account of the experiences of multiple family members, survivors, and victims of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. This compilation of narratives highlights the benefits of religion as well as the downfalls such as Christianity’s tendency to turn attention toward prayer and “holiness” and, in turn, sometimes turn attention away from psychology and mental health treatment.


Black communities are no different than any other community, but it is important to note that our upbringing and cultural differences can cause differences in mental health, mental wellness, and mental health treatment. Unfortunately, there is more of a negative stigma in the black communities in the US than in other racial communities. Despite being 20% more likely to report mental health and psychological distress, black Americans are much less likely to seek out treatment and are more likely to end treatment prematurely (US Department of Human Services, 2017).

This is likely attributed to stigma due to long-held beliefs that psychological distress isn’t real, is a sign of weakness, or can’t be helped by psychologists or other mental health workers because a person should be responsible for their own wellness in that aspect. There is evidence of a wide array of race-based exclusions from all different resources for the black community including, but not limited to health, education, social, and economic resources. This is another reason for stigma – lack of knowledge leads to lack of understanding leads to lack of trust. If you parent and their parents were never taught about mental wellness nor were they given access to mental health treatment, why would they teach you about it or take you treatment that they’ve never been exposed to?

Spirituality and community or two of the many barriers that lead to disparities in mental health treatment for black people in America.


Pew Research Center. (2019).

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2018). 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: African Americans

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Mental Health. (September, 2017). Mental health and African Americans.



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