Why Black Youth Are Less Likely to Get Mental Health Treatment


Although mental health care is becoming more accessible through options like telehealth therapy and other online resources, suicide is still the second leading cause of death among youth aged 14-18. For Black youth, that number increases even more. One study from the Congressional Black Caucus found that “the suicide death rate among Black youth has been found to be increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.” Despite the growing accessibility to mental health care, Black youth are still not receiving treatment for their mental health needs. 

Preventing Suicide

There are many ways to work toward preventing suicide. These methods range from a high community-wide level to a personal level. Ultimately, understanding the signs surrounding suicide can help you recognize them in yourself and others. 

Some warning signs include:

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Feeling empty

  • Wanting to die

  • Making plans to die

  • Isolating self

  • Giving away possessions

  • Becoming unable to cope with extreme pain

If you or someone you know is exhibiting these signs, the next step is to get help. However, as a Black youth, you might face unique challenges getting help for yourself or others. 

Community Stigma

A study on “African-American Men and Women’s Attitude Toward Mental Illness” found conflicting results regarding how the Black community sees and treats mental illness. The main points found in this study were:

  • Mental illness is seen as weakness or highly stigmatizing, especially among older members.

    If your community sees mental illness as a personal flaw or weakness, it can be much more difficult to receive help. You might not feel that your struggles are valid or that you will receive support if you ask for it from your community. 

  • Seeking help is seen positively, but people don’t seek help.

    Interestingly, the study found that some viewed seeking out mental health services as a positive action but didn’t receive treatment or use any available services. 

  • A popular coping tool is religion.

    Many in the study favored using religion to cope with

    issues rather than seeking professional help. 

In all three points, the main commonality was that Black Americans were not receiving help from mental health services. 

You might encounter some of these attitudes in your own life. It’s important to point out that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness. Anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health issues are not character flaws or personal failings but legitimate issues that deserve validation and compassionate understanding. 

At the same time, it might be helpful to understand that older members of a community grew up in a time when mental health was far more stigmatized than it is now. Their opinion on your mental health issues does not mean that you are weak or failing. 

Barriers Surrounding Treatment

There are many historically-backed reasons why Black youth might avoid seeking treatment. A study on the “Black Youth Suicide Crisis” found that racism plays a significant role in youth not receiving treatment for mental health issues and suicidal thoughts or actions. They found that “Black youth are also significantly less likely than white youth to receive outpatient treatment even after a suicide attempt.”

White communities, especially medical and mental health professionals, have historically and currently provided a lower standard of care to Black patients, including youth. The CDC found that racism also results in fewer Black mental health providers in general. This lack of representation and equal care has led Black youth and communities to avoid seeking out care rather than experiencing the effects of racist, uninformed, or unequal care. 

Finding Compassionate Mental Health Professionals

As a Black youth, you can ask questions to and about your mental health providers to determine whether or not they are a good fit for your needs. A few questions you can ask your provider might include:

  • Have you treated Black patients before? 

  • Have you received training for Black mental health issues? 

  • Do you change your treatment methods based on your patient’s cultural or racial background?

After a session with a mental health professional, a few questions to consider include:

  • Did I feel listened to? 

  • Did I feel valued? 

  • Did I feel believed?

  • Did I feel respected?

  • Did I feel that my provider would treat me equally? 

  • Did I feel that my concerns would be taken seriously?

If you find yourself answering no to any of these questions, consider finding another mental health professional who will treat you with the respect and understanding you deserve. 

Seeking out a competent and compassionate mental health provider might be difficult, but many organizations are making it easier by requiring their providers to receive cultural and racial training before providing care to patients.

Black youth face unique challenges when seeking out mental health care, including community perceptions surrounding mental illness, a lack of access to appropriate care, or experiencing institutional racism in the mental health system. It can be challenging to have your mental health issues taken seriously by your loved ones and your mental health providers. Learning to validate your own experiences and mental health issues can go a long way in encouraging you to seek professional help. At SokyaHealth, our licensed therapists understand the fear and anxiety you may have when it comes to finding a competent and compassionate mental health provider. We believe that everyone has the right to mental health care and see each patient as a complete individual so that we can treat you wholly and appropriately. At SokyaHealth, we value your experience, validate your concerns, and will take your concerns seriously. Call us at (877) 840-6956 today to learn more about our telehealth services today. 

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.