To cultivate a more inclusive workplace for the Black community, employees and companies can take steps to banish harmful mental health stigmas.
A healthy workplace cultivates a supportive and inclusive culture with a focus on relegating harmful stigmas. The office should be a safe space for all—both physically and mentally.
Although there shouldn’t be a stigma around mental health struggles, many workers fear their coworkers or boss will think they’re unstable or a bad worker if they speak up. A recent study found that 49% of employees are afraid that “sharing how they’re feeling mentally could lead to repercussions, including the loss of their job.”
The Black Community’s Relationship to Mental Health
While it’s hard for anyone to ask for help during a mental health crisis or discuss the topic at work, mental health stigmas are especially prevalent in the Black community.
“Suspicion [of medical providers and therapists] continues to be an issue due to negative experiences, past and present, that have impacted these communities,” says Cheryl Maxwell, a program manager for the Black Mental Health Alliance.
According to one study, 25% of Black people sought mental health treatment when needed, compared to 40% of white people.
Black@Apex, one of Apex’s employee resource groups, graciously hosted a webinar with Jasmine McLaughlin, a licensed clinical social worker and author who discussed removing the stigma around Black Americans getting help for mental illness.
“Let's normalize having conversations about mental well-being."
Why are Black Americans Less Likely to Seek Mental Health Treatment?
McLaughlin explains that there is a long history of mistreatment of Black people by medical professionals, which led to a collective distrust of the healthcare system.
Throughout history, Black men and women have been subjected to unethical medical experiments, which justifiably increases their distrust and wariness of the medical community.
The stigma about seeking care also comes from generational trauma as well as a lack of access, awareness, and resources.
Many Black Americans access healthcare solely through the emergency room because they do not have a primary care physician. When they do engage with a doctor or healthcare professional, racial biases sometimes come into play, so patients’ issues might be dismissed or untreated.
For example, maternal death rates for black women are higher than white mothers in the U.S. and the U.K., and members of the Black community do not receive the same quality of care compared to their white counterparts.
McLaughlin hopes to break down barriers around care for Black Americans. “It is important to advocate for ourselves so we get the treatment we need for our mental and physical health,” McLaughlin explains.
What Steps Can We Take as Individuals?
What steps can you take personally to banish stigmas, especially if you’re a member of the Black community? McLaughlin says the first step is awareness—after all, you can’t fix what you don’t recognize as broken.
The next step is to unlearn unhelpful patterns that no longer serve you, physically or emotionally. For example, you might have a thought pattern that getting help for mental health is silly and weak. Recognize that this is an unhelpful belief that no longer serves you.
By actively working to undo the patterns, you get closer to breaking down barriers and healing yourself.
This work can be done with the help of a therapist. “Nothing has to be wrong with you to seek therapy,” McLaughlin stresses. “It can be helpful for work, life changes, and for you to just have a space to process various feelings.”
Many workplaces offer virtual mental health resources, depending on your insurance and medical plan. Talk to an HR representative within your company to learn more—you may be eligible for a number of free or discounted sessions.
How Can We Help Others?
It’s important to recognize that we all need community care and support. “We don’t live in a vacuum,” McLaughlin says. “We need each other. We thrive in communities with other people.” Also, raising awareness for issues is more powerful through collective efforts.
If you notice that a coworker is struggling, bring it up. Ask them if they’re okay. Show people compassion and grace and engage in healthy, mutually supportive relationships.
“If you see something, say something,” McLaughlin states. “Let's normalize having conversations about our mental well-being.”
If you’re a supervisor, show your employees genuine support and maintain a safe space where people can show up authentically and honestly. If you see someone struggling and they aren’t interested in opening up to you, that’s okay. Simply say something like, I respect your privacy, but these resources are available if you want someone to talk to about what's going on. You can then direct them to your company’s specific resources.
You Are Not Alone
It is important to remember that even if you are suffering from mental health issues, you are not alone. There are resources available. Struggling with your mental health does not mean you are weak. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Many state and local governments have mental health services available to residents at no cost.
Lastly, if you are feeling suicidal, simply dial or text 988, which is a suicide prevention hotline. You will be connected to mental health professionals with the Lifeline network.
Companies should recognize the importance of fostering a work environment where mental health is prioritized, not stigmatized. Together, we can strive to remove mental health stigmas within our respective communities and offer our coworkers and loved ones respect, encouragement, and support.
Resources for Finding a Therapist
- Therapy for Black Girls Directory
- Therapy for Black Men Directory
- Clinicians of Color Directory
- Psychology Today
- Melanin and Mental Health
- Insurance company directories
- Black Women's Mental Health: Balancing Strength and Vulnerability Edited by Stephanie Y. Evans, Kanika Bell, and Nsenga K. Burton
- The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health by Rheeda Walker, PhD
- It Didn't Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn
- Self-Love Workbook for Black Women by Rachel Johnson, LMSW, MFT
- Man, Just Express Yourself! : An Interactive Planner Guide for Men, Young and Old by James Harris
- Write It Out! A 10-Day Guided Journal for Reflecting, Releasing, and Restoring by Jasmine McLaughlin, LCSW
Questions to Ask a Prospective Therapist
- Do you offer a 15-minute free consultation? (This will give you an opportunity to ask your questions.)
- How long have you been in practice?
- Are you licensed? If so, how long have you been licensed?
- Do you specialize in _________ issues?
- Do you accept my insurance? If not, what is your fee schedule?
- What can I expect in terms of a session?
- Do you have experience working with members of the LGBTQIA community?
- Are you an ally for diversity and inclusion?
- Do you have a specialized form of treatment?
- Does your schedule align with mine? (For example, are you looking for someone who works evenings or weekends?)
- Can you help someone going through _______ stage of their life? (E.g., divorce, becoming an empty nester, being a primary caregiver for an aging parent)
- Will our sessions be in person or virtual?