Addressing Mental Health in African American Communities

Aug 13, 2014
By: Joseph Powell, Former President of the National Leadership Council on African American Behavioral Health

Behavioral health is sometimes a taboo subject in African American communities and among those of African heritage. Some feel that talking about your emotional and mental well-being means there is something really wrong, but that isn’t the case at all. Just like we have to maintain our physical health, we have to maintain emotional and mental health.   In order to be healthy, we have to consider all parts of our being, including how we feel each day. One way to maintain good emotional and mental well-being is to prioritize physical health and nutrition.  Research has shown that mental health disorders have a serious impact on physical health. Using stress reduction techniques like meditation and yoga, and making time for friends and family is important too! 

In addition to being reluctant to talk about behavioral health, there are many other barriers that the African American and African Heritage communities face that have an impact on mental health. Poverty affects mental health status, and African Americans and those of African heritage experience poverty more so than other ethnicities. Persons at the poverty level are three times more likely to have psychological distress [1]. There are other numerous, eye-opening statistics that would remind us that mental health awareness, particularly in the African American/African Heritage community, is vital. The National Leadership Council on African American Behavioral Health (NLC) recognizes the importance of raising awareness about mental health issues and to ensure people can get help if they need it.

For instance, if you do not have health coverage, it may be difficult for you to get the support and services you need. This makes the upcoming enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) very important. We have made progress in diagnosing mental health conditions, but we must also work to help people get better access to affordable, quality support and treatment. The NLC continues to work to increase awareness in the African American community about the benefits of the ACA, in particular as it relates to behavioral health, and to encourage people to enroll in health coverage.

At different stages in our lives, we might need extra support. One in five Americans has a mental health need, regardless of race or ethnicity. Don’t ignore the warning signs; seek help. In instances that you feel really overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, or are having problems with drugs or alcohol, seek professional help. There are services and supports that are designed for you by people that understand you. 

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[1] The Office of Minority Health. (2012). Mental Health and African Americans. Retrieved Aug 3, 2014 from

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