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Battling the 'taboo' of seeking mental health help in minority communities

According to the American Psychiatric Association, only one in three African Americans who need mental health receives it.

CLEVELAND — Fallout from the pandemic highlighted numerous health issues in desperate need of some serious attention, one being mental health.

Often in communities of color, discussing the issue is considered taboo. Mental health professionals are trying to change that mindset. 

"No, we don't air our dirty laundry, we don't talk to outsiders," Cleveland Clinic psychologist Chivonna Childs, Ph.D., said. "We’ll just keep it in the family."

RELATED: More from WKYC Studios' 'Turning Point' series

As an African American woman, Childs understands the hesitancy some minorities have toward seeking mental help, but believes it's vitally important to change that mindset.

"Sometimes keeping it in the family is killing the family line, and by that I mean passing on mental health issues from one generation to the next," she said.

According to Mental Health America, 13.4% of Americans identify as Black or African American. Of those, 16% reported having a mental health issue last year. That's more than seven million people. 

In the last year, there were far more triggers than just pandemic uncertainty, isolation or grief from financial or personal losses in minority communities. The constant media coverage of police brutality cases, divisive political comments and blatant racist attacks add complex layers to an already stressful time.

"We have higher rates of anxiety, we have higher rates of depression, stress," Childs explained. "There are higher rates of suicide, we're experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. All of this is hitting the community, but again in African American communities, it is at a much higher level, as well as for Hispanics and women."

According to the American Psychiatric Association, only one in three African Americans who need mental health receives it. Overall, African Americans also have lower rates of using mental health services and prescription medications, but higher use of inpatient services. 

And while rates of depression among Blacks (24.6%) and Hispanics (19.6%) are lower than whites (34.7%), depression among minorities is likely to be more persistent. When it's a clinical diagnosis, many don't realize it's out of their control.

"Sometimes it’s a chemical imbalance," Childs said. "If we have bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, those aren't things that you have control over. Those are chemical imbalances that require medication so that you can have a functioning life."

Another issue is the need for more minority mental health providers, because lack of cultural understanding may contribute to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis in people from diverse backgrounds. That includes language.

"People will say, 'You know, I've not been depressed, but I've been really sad for the past couple of weeks.' That’s a sign and symptom of depression," Childs explained. "Not eating well, sleeping, oversleeping, sleeping too much, anxiety, being hypervigilant, being startled easily, being worried, having this feeling of doom and gloom sit over you and not know where it’s coming from or why."

Help is available, and needed now more than ever.

"Mental health trauma can be a generational thing, and we have to know where to stop and step in and break that cycle," Childs said. "Part of breaking the cycle is reaching out to a trusted loved one [or] our pastor."

Childs provided a list of African American therapists in the Greater Cleveland area, including herself:

Dr. Chivonna Childs - Cleveland Clinic Solon Family health center

  • CHILDSC2@ccf.org
  • Individual, couples, and family therapy. Specialty in anxiety, depression, grief, CBT, African American women and postpartum depression. Ages 18 and up.

Dr. Darby - Darby Counseling and Consulting

Dr. Monroe - Beachwood

  • (216) 242-1580

Dr. Ford - Psychology of the Western Reserve

  • (888) 350-7697 ext. 800
  • rford@psychologyofthewesternreserve.com

Dr. Danette Conklin Danette - University Hospitals, Cleveland and Mayfield Heights

  • Danette.Conklin@UHhospitals.org
  • Obesity medicine and women’s health (problematic menopause symptoms and mood disorders; perinatal and postpartum depression). Ages 18-70.

Eric King, MA, MEd, LPCC - Beachwood and South Euclid

  • ericking@bmewc.com
  • Anxiety, depression, grief/loss as well as substance use disorders. Couples struggling with pre-marital anxiety, infidelity and effect communication. Traditional and blended families with children suffering from adjustment disorder, optional defiant, conduct disorder and behavioral disorders. Men struggling with anger, sexual wellness and health management disorders. Ages 14-55.

You can listen to her entire below interview on the "Health Yeah! with Monica Robins" podcast:

Links to listen to Health Yeah! with Monica Robins:

Follow @monicarobins on Twitter and Instagram and on Facebook, Monica Robins (WKYC) to stay tuned in on upcoming podcasts and health news. Stay well and have a healthy week!

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