Isn’t he just the most beautiful boy? This sweet, innocent face represents the many faces in America that suffer from psychiatric and behavioral disorders that go overlooked as a result of a lack of mental healthcare.

Black History Month always re-surfaces multiple issues of concern. Unfortunately, we rarely hear discussion about mental health among ethnic minorities during this time.

Mental health treatment in ethnic minority sectors is often underutilized and highly stigmatized. Treatment is typically the last resort for cultures who rely heavily on holistic health, alternative and nontraditional healing practices, faith-oriented practices, and Christian counseling. Sadly, for urban residents, the majority of services are found in suburban and rural areas as well as larger cities. Securing transportation or funds to travel, can be a headache for urban families. As a result, various avenues are sought before traditional psychiatric services are even considered.

Many theories support the view that services are out of reach for ethnic minority and lower socio-economic status (SES) families and are either physically or financially unavailable. Other theories highlight issues such as high practice rates and fees, lack of interest, and lack of cultural competence of mental health therapists.

Cultural competence (a sensitivity to a culture or ethnic group and its issues) include an array of skills necessary to empathize with and fully understand the needs of individuals from particular cultures.

While becoming culturally competent is a goal most therapists are striving toward today, this is only half the battle. Many ethnic minority households are uninformed about the services available to them. Therapists, other mental health professionals, and advocates have a moral obligation to educate and inform.


Before we can properly educate however, we need to understand the issues that prevent proper psychiatric care:

  1. Lack of ethnic support: Only 2% of Psychiatrists and 2% of Psychologists in the U.S. are African American. For many ethnic minority families, it can be stressful considering the need for mental health treatment and can become even more daunting if there are limited opportunities to meet with therapists who you feel can relate to you.
  2. Lack of cultural competence: Because psychotherapy has been an avenue largely sought and researched by middle class Europeans, ethnic minorities, primarily African Americans, have had little access to services and have not been included in research. We are just beginning to incorporate ethnic minorities in research and provide avenues for access to treatment.
  3. Poor understanding: Many ethnic minority families have poor knowledge of how mental health influences behavior, thought patterns, and lifestyle. Most behavior is viewed as problematic due to an inborn characteristic that cannot be changed.
  4. Gender: It can be difficult for males of all races to express feelings of depression or anxiety. But it can be even more difficult for African American males due to their cultural background. In African American communities, males should “tough it out and get over it.” In other cases, many are far more represented in the criminal/juvenile justice system than the mental health system.

    Tyana Warren

For more information on mental health in African American communities, watch “Snapping the chain: Ending mental health stigma in the African American community”


All the best



PEERS Tv. (2011, October, 8). Snapping the chain: Ending mental health stigma in the African American community. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from

PEERS Tv. (n.d.). PEERS Tv. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from



Creative Commons License photo credit 1: Source unknown 

Creative Commons License photo credit 2: Tyana Warren