My family used to joke that only white people need therapy. Black people go to church instead, find remedies on their knees in prayer, sing their sorrows away. Meanwhile, white academics told me that African-Americans merely fabricated ungrounded stigma around psychiatric help. As absurd as these two viewpoints may sound, these myths actually point to a greater phenomenon.
As of 2012, 15% of the US American population without health insurance was African-American. Considering the role economic status plays in healthcare sheds light on the racial discrepancy with respect to treating mental illness. Many people with health insurance find that their companies don’t cover the cost of mental illness treatment, and those without any health insurance find themselves facing incredibly high prices to pay for medical care, or opting not to pursue treatment at all. These obstacles often lead Black folks in the states to “rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary,” states NAMI’s fact sheet on African American Community Mental Health.
Even if able to pay for treatment, many Black folks encounter prejudices and biases from medical caregivers. Black people, especially Black men, are frequently misdiagnosed when it comes to mental illness. For example, most prominently in the 1960s, white doctors institutionalized Black men involved in civil rights protests (particularly in Detroit) on the grounds that the behaviors these men defended as political activism was really schizophrenic rage and volatility. Also, medical practitioners’ prescriptions sometimes reflect discriminatory and generally racial assumptions that Black people do not need as much medicine as white people. Studies conducted by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health discovered that Black US Americans are 1.5 times as likely to be denied antidepressant treatment. No one wants tell you that the system is sick. No one wants to tell you that the healthcare system intentionally keeps historically marginalized groups like queer folks, and Black folks, and people who happen to find themselves at the intersection of queerness and Blackness sick.
Today I called a depression hotline
Because I was awake before the sun and
Nobody else was.
A woman on the other end answered.
Just before I opened my mouth
I thought about if anyone ever thought to
Ask them if they were alright.
So I did.
Over the phone I could almost hear her smile as she said
“I’m doing just fine.”
I’ve been conditioned to hold my breath
When I walk by cemeteries or
When ambulances pass by.
Sometimes it is not always beauty that robs your lungs.
In the 5th grade I accidentally broke a boy’s finger.
I feel guilty about it still.
I’ve been single for almost a decade.
When I was telling my friend about
Another botched attempt at getting close with a girl she said
“You’re too soft for a man. You’re too nice.
Girls want to hug boys like you, not kiss them.”
I can’t help that my arms tremble when I hold someone,
I don’t want to break something so precious.
I can’t help that I cry more out of love than I do sadness.
I am not a shell, I am not steel.
My skin is dark but it is not rough.
My body writes checks out to any homeless heart.
My lips bruise trying to talk people into sleep.
I am soft, I am tender.