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  • Writer's pictureDr. Mike Jones

Black and African American Communities and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This could not be a more critical time for increasing awareness when people everywhere feel despair and are grieving losses on many levels due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, too often, within the Black Community, mental health is taboo. People are shamed into not getting or receiving help for fear of “giving the family a bad name” or being “the talk of the town.” These are just a couple of quotes I’ve heard within my family and community growing up, representing a continuing reality today. Thankfully, organizations like American Hospital Association (AHA) recognize May as a “time to raise awareness of those living with mental or behavioral health issues and to help reduce the stigma so many experience.” In addition, other organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) join this movement to “raise awareness, fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.”

Black and African American Communities and Mental Health

Some years ago, in a family meeting with my parents and siblings, we uncovered a history of depression and despair all the way back to our great grandparents. This surfaced because we noticed patterns of isolation from each other and among extended family members. It was not easy to name because we had no point of reference to speak about it freely with our parents. After all, they had rarely talked about any traumatic experiences when we were growing up. However, we would comment as kids about the strange and uncomfortable behaviors that we saw within our circle of family, friends, church members, and even community leaders.

For the most part, people just “moved to Upstate New York with their auntie” and you never heard anything else about them. At other times, we would get the sad news of a suicide that left us feeling confused because we never suspected the person would think about ending their life. Moreover, in all the horrific incidents and tragic stories I heard growing up within the Black community, the people suffering from mental illness were men. I vividly remember the day I learned the news of a high school friend who committed suicide one day after we had just been talking in the school hallway. I was confused and disconcerted and felt a pain that remains with me today along with many troubling, unanswered questions. Was there mental illness? Did he have discouraging situations in his life about which no one knew? Was he receiving counseling of some sort that did not help or prevent him from committing suicide?

“Overall, mental health conditions occur in Black and African American (B/AA) people in America at about the same or less frequency than in White Americans. However, the historical Black and African American experience in America has and continues to be characterized by trauma and violence more often than for their White counterparts and impacts emotional and mental health of both youth and adults.” Leadership within the Black Community regarding mental health typically emerges from the church. In my experience, Blacks turned to the pastor, first lady, some other spiritual leader within the church, or head of the family for advice. This was typically a person that was trusted and came highly recommended. The only problem I found with this tradition is that the talks were usually what we call “one and done.” There was this notion that everything was alright after having spoken to this designated leader within the community. In my experience, the problems did not dissipate; rather, they were suppressed and compounded with the complexities of life and its impact on people’s mental health. Faith and spirituality can help in the recovery process and be an essential part of a treatment plan. For example, spiritual leaders and faith communities can provide support and reduce isolation. However, they should not be the only option for people whose daily functioning is impaired by symptoms of mental disorder.

Emerging on the scene are the Top 10 Influencers who recognize the lack of mental health leadership within the Black community and are working on breaking down barriers to treatment. My hope is that you will share this list or reference it when the opportunity emerges to aid someone in maintaining sound mental health. Let’s all be aware of the available resources and commit to helping the people in our lives seek treatment when they need it.

1. Therapy for Black Girls

2. Lorraine Pascale

3. Ethel’s Club

4. Black Girl In Om

5. Dr. Ebony

6. Kid Cudi

7. Brandon Marshall

8. Celeste the Therapist

9. Doug Middleton

10. Logic

Dr. Mike Jones has served as a K-16 teacher, executive director, principal, leadership coach, teacher supervisor, and humanitarian for 25 years in the public and private education sectors in the USA, Jamaica, UAE, Slovakia, Nigeria, and Ghana. He is the host of Let’s Talk with Dr. Mike Jones, an online show that informs and connects the global education community through conversations about the impact of COVID-19 and how to respond to the opportunities to transform learning systems. Visit

Comments or Questions? Want to share your educational experience with COVID? I cordially invited you to reach out! All respectful, on-topic comments are welcome.

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