The Gospel Truth & Black Mental Health

Amanda McKnight | Staff Writer

“That only happens to white folks.”

“Just pray about it.”

These are two of many phrases that are commonly heard within the African American community. When it comes to taking care of your mental health, the black community as a whole seems to be under the impression that seeking help shows weakness and is not a necessity.

Is the prayer mentality advocated by the black Protestant faith causing more harm than help?

In the past, access to proper mental health care was not an option for a majority of the black community. The church house was the only place that provided solace in a world full of duress.  Lack of funds, time and trust were also factors for people in seeking health care. Due to medical misconduct, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment wherein groups of African Americans were purposely refused treatment and misled about their syphilis diagnoses, there is an entire generation of African Americans who do not trust doctors. These individuals feel as though they are being taken advantage of and swindled; this mistrust is then transmitted onto the next generation, and so on.

Today, we do not have to live our lives in fear of health providers. Overall, they are trained professionals who know how to diagnose, treat and provide care for their patients with minimal impact upon daily life. No more is your pastor or an elder in the community the only option when it comes to taking care of your mental health.

In 2002, The American Journal of Public Health published an article entitled “Alternative Mental Health Services: The Role of the Black Church in the South” that studied the state of mental health programs in Southern churches. They found that while black churches offered more services for mental health than their white counterparts, both are lacking in a connection with formal health care providers. For counseling services to be truly helpful to a congregation, the clergy must be trained and have access to professionals in the community for severe cases.

Former Illinois Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a son of one of the country’s most honored reverends, recently checked into the Mayo Clinic to be treated for bipolar spectrum disorder according to the Associated Press. He did so with the public support of his father and constituents. With the recent losses of rapper Freddy E. and icon Don Cornelius to suicide, hopefully more people will follow the example of Jackson and get the help they need before it is too late.

While prayer and spirituality are both a big part of healing for some, mental health is not something that can continue to be swept under the rug and ignored. Unless your pastor has a degree in clinical psychology or psychiatry, he cannot administer the proper care.

Many of us know “the Lord helps those that help themselves.” Does it not apply in this situation?

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