The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. Unfortunately for many, it’s a lonely time when feelings of sadness and depression settle in. It can be the pressure of traveling, family gatherings, financial strain, traditions, and social commitments. This particular time of year can invite anxiety to stick around longer than it usually does.
I always feel the emptiness of not having my mother here, once the holiday time begins. I miss her. The holidays haven’t been the same since she’s been gone. Particularly over the last six years that I’ve lived away from home, it’s hard to manage not being around my family.
According to the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, the adult Black community is 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems. However, only 25 percent of Black people seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of whites. What happens when you have the desire to seek help but can’t? Truth is, there are several barriers that make it harder for Black people to access professional care, especially during the holidays.
Around 11 percent of Black Americans are uninsured. This fact is significant because paying out of pocket is not an option for a lot of Black people. The lack of financial means to pay for regular therapy sessions stops them from being able to take part in mental health care. Those who do have health insurance often don’t have mental health services covered or cannot afford to pay the high deductibles.
Many employers offer an employee assistance program that helps employees cope with various situations. The great thing is that it’s free and can be used even if employees opt out of health coverage. This will help not to have to make a decision between mental health care and gift-giving.
There is a cultural stigma attached to mental health in the Black community. Going to therapy or just acknowledging that you need help can be viewed as a weakness. Unfortunately, there can be family members who create shame around it. During Christmas one year, a friend of mine told her mother that she intended to seek therapy. Her mother responded, “Why are you going to tell those people all your business?” She was questioned about how she could embarrass the family like that. She was encouraged to pray about it and go to church.
This is an example of what keeps many from going home for the holidays — unresolved issues or unpleasant circumstances. It intensifies the hurt and pain. After returning home, my friend was left feeling unsupported and as if she were an embarrassment to her family for wanting to get help. She worried what others thought about her going to therapy instead of getting help that she needed.
Lack of Diversity
Oftentimes, Black people prefer to talk to someone who looks like them and can better understand their experience. Unfortunately, only 3.8 percent of therapists identify as Black. The lack of representation can make it hard for those seeking a therapist to find the help they need. Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is a licensed psychologist, speaker, and host of the mental health podcast Therapy for Black Girls. Her live offerings on Instagram are amazing. Bradford’s work focuses on making mental health topics more relevant and accessible for Black women. She also has a nationwide database to help locate Black therapists. I have utilized this free service, and it saved me a lot of time and stress.
Over the years, many Black people have grown suspicious of the health care system in general. This is due to a long, painful history of being mistreated and misdiagnosed that dates all the way back to slavery. There have been unethical treatments and exploitative experimentation. Every generation, Black families who experienced or lived with parents who directly suffered through these things developed mistrust of mental health treatment.
Finding a therapist is like going into a new relationship. It takes time and effort to determine if it’s a good fit. One thing that helped me was to ask questions — a lot of questions. This was important to build trust and allow myself to feel more comfortable.
Navigating the Process
I’ve heard friends of mine say that looking for a therapist is like looking for a new job. It’s not an easy process and requires intentional work. Recently, the process has been made easier with resources such as Talkspace and BetterHelp, which can be accessed online or through their apps. These services match you with a licensed therapist to work with, and weekly sessions tend to be more affordable than in-person therapy.
Other suggestions would be to start locally. If you’re a student, many campuses provide access to a counseling center or referrals to ones that service students at no cost. Churches and other faith-based organizations are also great places to obtain lists and referrals.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.