How Can Young Black Fathers Find Mental Health Counseling?

Centuries of racism and discrimination have created persistent and profound barriers to mental health counseling among young Black fathers.

Today, it’s increasingly important that we address these issues and empower men to find the health care they need and deserve to care for themselves and their families.

There are important questions we must ask and steps we must take.

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What are the mental health issues among young Black fathers?

Two of the greatest ongoing mental health challenges are trauma and stereotyping.

  1. Trauma

There is no way to overemphasize how systemic racism has traumatized young Black fathers. Frequent media reports of police brutality – and everyone’s opinions of the incidents – are compounding the pain.

Scientific developments add yet another layer of complexity to this ongoing trauma. One study confirms what scientists have hypothesized for years: a parent’s trauma may have the potential to impact the DNA of his children.

One discussion about the study noted that although people would have scoffed at the idea in the past, “the hypothesis that an individual’s experience might alter the cells and behavior of their children and grandchildren has become widely accepted.”

Given this potential impact, Black fathers need to address their trauma, not only to live a happy, healthy life, but also to break the cycle of trauma for their children.

  1. Stereotyping

While society has taken big strides to overcome negative perceptions, mental illness and attending therapy are still stigmatized.

Along with stigmatization, unrealistic stereotyping surrounding race and gender also persists. Stigmatization and stereotyping sometimes keep Black men from seeking help. Young Black fathers face a unique set of stereotypes they must overcome in order to prioritize their mental health.

Physician and addiction medicine specialist Edwin C. Chapman noted that “[Black men] were always taught to not let people see them suffering, so we hide it, internalize it, and don’t talk about it. It comes from a long tradition of oppression and as a result of that, anxiety and depression, which is often misinterpreted in our community as a sign of weakness. Denial is really a defense mechanism and [a way] to hide that hurt.”

What are some barriers to treatment?

It should be noted that many Black men are not as resistant to the idea of therapy as we might be tempted to conclude. In the words of Howard C. Stevenson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Racial Empowerment Collaborative, “We should place less emphasis on whether Black men are resistant to therapy and more on understanding the contexts in which they already feel comfortable talking about their feelings and traumas. If a Black man is able to find a treatment that is culturally responsive, that he understands, and that embraces the uniqueness of his difference, he is more likely to use that service.”

But why don’t all young Black fathers have access to effective mental health care? Some common barriers to treatment include:

  1. Stigma

Stigma surrounding mental health care continues to be a challenge to receiving such assistance.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “Negative attitudes and beliefs towards people who live with mental health conditions is pervasive within the U.S. and can be particularly strong within the Black community.”

  1. Mistrust

Statistically, some Black men harbor feelings of mistrust when it comes to medical professions and the mental health system.

ScienceDaily reports, “Mistrust of health care providers, fueled by painful experiences with racism, makes African American men more likely to delay routine screenings and doctor’s appointments … with potentially serious implications for their overall health.”

  1. Inaccessibility

High-quality health care is not available to everyone in the United States. For example, in 2018, 11.5% of Black adults in the United States had no form of health insurance.

Ongoing socioeconomic disparities also exclude many young Black fathers from social, educational, and health resources. All have an ongoing impact on mental health.

As part of a greater effort toward inclusion, Black men should be included more in mental health research. One study noted, “Men’s tendency to delay health help-seeking is largely attributed to masculinity, but findings scarcely focus on African American men who face additional race-related, help-seeking barriers.”

How can we break existing barriers?

This isn’t a problem we can just wish away. It takes action, including:

  1. Addressing racism.

People who have historically been marginalized experience life differently from those who don’t know or understand what it’s like to be devalued by people in power. One ongoing cost of racism is the mental health burden it creates for the people who experience it.

This means the mental health community (as well as those who support it) must continue to listen and learn from all populations. Where there is opportunity to identify racism, it must be addressed.

One study found that physicians were 23 percent more verbally dominant and engaged in 33 percent less patient-centered communication with Black patients compared to white patients.

Addressing racism in the mental health space must begin with mental health professionals.

  1. Honoring the courage of men willing to prioritize their mental health.

Every man who takes this important step should be honored—every single one.

Additionally, we should encourage and support Black males in the public eye who speak about their mental health challenges because it gives other men permission to do the same.

Discussing the need for therapy and the barriers to receiving it, writer Damon Brown said, “Black dads need therapy. They’re not getting it.” It’s time to prioritize difficult conversations that make mental health care approachable for every man who needs it.

Sources

science.org – Parents’ Emotional Trauma May Change Their Children’s Biology. Studies in Mice Show How

sunshinebehavioralhealth.com – Recovery in a Quiet and Welcoming Environment

healthcentral.com – Why Do Black Men Hide Mental Illness?

apa.org – Black Men’s Mental Health Matters

dearfathers.com – STR8 Mental

nami.org – Black/African American

pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Masculinity and Race-Related Factors as Barriers to Health Help-Seeking Among African American Men

sciencedaily.com – Medical Mistrust Impacts African American Men’s Preventive Health, but Racism Also Matters

kff.org – Health Coverage by Race and Ethnicity, 2010-2019

psychiatry.orgWorking with African American/Black Patients

pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Masculinity and Race-Related Factors as Barriers to Health Help-Seeking Among African American Men

mhanational.org – Racism and Mental Health

fatherly.com – Black Dads Need Therapy. They’re Not Getting It.

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