As a sociologist and criminologist, I often do community outreach on mental health prevention. I urge organizations and programs to avoid “one size fits all” approaches. There are many ways that mental health issues can impact individuals, depending upon race and ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity, religion and more.
But I have found mental health conditions and suicide are often still considered a “white people’s problem.” When I speak with African Americans and non-white Hispanics – groups that are often overlooked by the mental health community – I’m often asked why I’m “wasting time” addressing race, ethnicity and other cultural variations.
Unfortunately, despite the existence of culturally specific support systems, many cultures still experience silence and shame around mental health issues. This is reflected in the care that’s provided as well. Based on false assumptions, many health professionals and health services end up, intentionally or unintentionally, catering to predominantly white consumers.
Meanwhile, African Americans make up about 12 to 13 percent of the U.S. population and are underrepresented in suicide data. Data suggest that African Americans have approximately 6 percent of the recorded rate of suicide compared to whites. But this data is likely incomplete – thanks to deaths that have been misclassified.