An often-silent struggle in African American households is our mental well being. Below, we’ll talk about how mental health may be silenced and overlooked in African American households – and why this happens.

Our families may dismiss our mental health, at least partially, due to inaccurate representation of Black mental health in media. It doesn’t help when we also have limited resources to live a healthy mental health life. Understanding these problems is the first step to making changes that improve your mental wellbeing.

If you’re an African American teenager: can you relate?

Life as a teenager is challenging. You experience body changes, find your identity, and begin to develop your sense of independence. Growing up as an African American teenager comes with a different set of challenges.

We experience racial discrimination and are taught to change ourselves to fit into a specific narrative. The media does not portray an accurate representation of our mental health, our physical health, our emotional health, just us as people. Time and time again we are represented as angry, crazy, or unfit to live within a certain space. 

With all that is on your plate, the last thing you need is for your home life, family, or community to amplify your mental health struggles. A likely experience when you seek support from within the community, you would hear “Depressed? We don’t get depressed. I just know you better depress those dishes.” 

How do people usually view mental health in the Black community? Why?

Growing up, my parents had different approaches to the topic of mental health. To my father, mental health did not exist. His perspective was that mental health is important when you are grieving someone who has passed. On the other hand, my mother educated us on the importance of a healthy mental lifestyle. She encouraged us to cater to our mental health year-round. Growing up with two sides of this issue made me begin to question how mental health is usually viewed in the Black community. Which attitude is more “normal”?

From what I can tell, the stigma in our community surrounding mental health is majority negative. We are taught to sweep it under the rug. Sweeping it under the rug can only work for so long until there is a huge hump of dirt under the rug waiting to be revealed. Or you are taught there is a shame in prioritizing your mental health since those feelings are not visible like physical health. 

According to an anonymous poll taken on the campus social media app, Fizz, 158 out of 245 participants answered No to the question “Do you feel like your mental health was valued and supported in your childhood home?” The poll results serve as a reflection of lack of conversations and support within different students’ childhood homes. The significantly high percentage of participants answering no to their mental health feeling valued and supported, focus on a common issue that exceeds individual experiences. 

Building on these results, a Detroit Public School Counselor, gives more insight to the issue and she said, “African American culture has a stigma against mental health. They view mental health as a weakness in our community. I believe this is because of a lack of education and financial support. We all know someone who is dealing with mental health issues, so as a culture it’s normal to talk to our friends and family about our problems rather than seeking help.” 

This same stigma has been passed down generations. Fearful of being perceived as weak because we feel things that are not easily seen. This fear could have derived from generational trauma from the black community falling victim to the medical field. 

A famous project that solely affected African American men was the Tuskegee project. From 1932 to 1972, the Tuskegee Project focused on untreated syphilis on black men.The researchers of the project did not get informed consent from the patients and did not provide treatment if it was available. This project was one of many examples of the members of the medical community’s actions to help cause a form of distrust. Numerous, recurrent events like this in our communal history understandably reiterate that fear of expressing our vulnerability and seeking help. 

One pervasive source of cultural stigma: lack of sensitive representation in media

Our history makes it a challenge to seek help and be vulnerable. 

One example of a lack of sensitive representation are the famous characters in black television are examples of black people taking mental health as a joke.

The television show, Black-ish. Set in California, the story follows the Johnson family for seven seasons. Andre Johnson, played by Anthony Anderson, is married to Rainbow Johnson and the parents of Andre Jr, Zoey, the twins Diane and Jack, and DeVante. Andre Sr.’s mother, Ruby, often went to Rainbow for her beliefs and worldly views. Often Ruby and Andre Sr (Dre) would go against the idea of therapy and mental health resources since they both did not grow up exposed to those resources. 

The insensitive representation of our mental health in the media can have a deeper effect on our community. Television shows or movies that fail to portray the complexities of our mental health will overall contribute to the stigma within our community. Sometimes the visuals can reinforce the negative stereotypes which in turn create and foster a misperception of African Americans experiences with mental health. 

Many teenagers use their social media platforms discussing mental health within their families. One trend on the social media platform, Tiktok, is creators sharing their mental health concerns with a family member, and getting the response of “Go depress them dishes”. Creators @cityboixx and @schoollunchtray have gained attention for their message about mental health struggles often being overlooked. 

Their message along with many other Tiktok creators shed light to the stigma of mental health in African American communities.Their posts contribute to the challenge of the silence and humor associated with mental health. 


The television Good Times show pushed many boundaries and displayed what a family who is just trying to make it goes through on the daily. It was set in Chicago looking into a family of three, James  Jr (J.J.), Thelma, and Michael to James Evans Sr and Florida Evans. James was not exposed to mental health resources due to his cultural background. His children on the other hand, specifically Michael sought out for knowledge and made it his mission to educate his family on ways to advance in the society for which they lived. Good Times pushed the envelope by educating the public on different aspects of their health and resources they can use to help them. 

How you can address mental health in your household 

Before you begin any action you should have an open and honest conversation. 

Picture a dorm meeting in Libby Hall from the hit 90’s television show, A Different World. Everyone gathered around and ready to listen. 

Talking out the emotions and feelings you feel will help shed light on many emotions that are often put away. Opening up will help people understand what each other are going through. 

This conversation is a door opener to the community resources. This will foster an environment where individuals may share their specific coping skills within the shared space. This will promote empathy but helps establish a support system within the household. 

Creating a safe space 

Establishing a safe space is the first part of a mental health conversation. Members of the conversation should feel safe and comfortable. Safe spaces allow everyone to be vulnerable with one another. 

Safe spaces should have  ground rules, empathic language and listening, and diverse perspectives. 

Ground rules 

Ground rules will set the clear expectations of the conversation. Keep in mind topics discussed in the conversation should remain confidential. 

Avoid all interruptions. Interruptions can take away from the conversation’s flow and make people feel unheard. 

Lastly, respect everyone’s boundaries and perspectives. Everyone has a different cultural background and perspective therefore we should respect each one and remain from judging. 

Empathic language and listening 

Empathic listening is listening without judgment and taking the time to listen to everyone’s emotions. 

The language in this conversation should be non judgemental and supportive. Using both empathic listening and language will validate everyone’s feelings and foster a deeper understanding between everyone. 

Diverse perspectives 

Having diverse perspectives allow for a range of viewpoints. Hearing the differences of insights helps people understand the different approaches to the topic of mental health. Diverse  perspectives help bring the level of impact up. 

Effective conversations 

The conversation will not be effective unless the stigma of keeping things bottled up is dismantled. We may be able to communicate how we feel but not listen to how others feel. Needing to listen with intent to care and listen instead of listening with the intent to respond will keep the conversation afloat. 

With an effective conversation, self care and coping skills should be discussed. The discussion should include different possible options of self care and an action plan for individuals that cater to their specific wants and needs.

Steps after the conversation 

Just like in A Different World, after all meetings people should reflect on what was communicated. 

A healthy mental health life is a journey, and can not be created overnight. People have to be patient with themselves and their family members. Embracing a journey into a healthy mental health life will need compassion and consistency.