Although mental illness is prevalent in the Black community, stigma, access to care, and discrimination in the U.S health care system often pose barriers to seeking care.

Stigma– There is a belief among those in the Black community that depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are signs of weakness. Some community members even see mental illness as something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and may go to great lengths to suppress or bury those feelings deep inside and suffer in silence. 

Access-Another barrier is the affordability of mental health services. According to NAMI, 11.5% of Black adults do not have health insurance. The Black community is often excluded from health, education, and social and economic resources. These exclusions often lead to an increase in mental health outcomes in the Black community. 

Prejudice and Discrimination– Historically, The Black community has experienced inequity in the United States health care system. There is still bias in the health care system today. Some providers are aware that they are using unfair practices such as misdiagnosis and poor treatment. These practices lead to mistrust of mental health providers and, therefore, lessen the chances that of people seeking treatment. Some health care providers also lack cultural competence. Someone from the Black community may describe body aches and pain that could be related to depression. A provider who is not able to effectively interact with other cultures may not recognize these symptoms as a mental health condition.

Those in the Black community can overcome these obstacles to quality mental health care. Usually, a primary care provider can perform an initial mental health assessment and provide a referral to a mental health professional if needed.

Here are some questions that you may want to ask your provider to get an idea of their cultural awareness:


  • Have you treated other Black people or received training in culturally-responsive care for Black mental health? If not, how do you plan to provide me with culturally sensitive, patient-centered care?
  • Will our cultural backgrounds impact our communication and my treatment?
  • Do you use a different approach when treating patients from different cultural backgrounds?
  • What is your current awareness of differences in health outcomes for Black patients?


When your visit is over, you should feel heard and respected. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself:

  • Did my provider answer my questions in a way that I understand and listen to my concerns?
  • Is my provider willing to include my beliefs, practices, identity, and cultural background into my treatment plan?
  • Did I feel like I was respected and valued?
  • Do I feel like my provider connects well with me and understands me?


Communication is key to treatment when it comes to the patient-provider relationship. For more information on overcoming barriers to mental health care that the Black community experiences visit Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM).


-Sybil Austin-McDowell