Mental Health Disparities within the Black Community

Written By: Munirat Adebimpe, NP, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and Gregory Brunson, Jr, BA, Diversity Outreach Coordinator on February 23, 2023

February is Black History Month. As a healthcare provider, we at Care New England believe it is important to bring attention to mental health disparities within the Black Community and find ways to rectify this issue. Everyone suffering from a mental health illness should receive the level of the treatment they need and deserve, regardless of race.

For this blog, two Butler Hospital employees share their thoughts on the mental health crisis as it pertains to Black Americans, Gregory Brunson, Jr, BA, Diversity Outreach Coordinator, and Munirat Adebimpe, NP, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.

Why Black Americans are Reluctant to Seek Help for Mental Illness
Gregory Brunson, Jr, BA, Diversity Outreach Coordinator

“You need so much more than mental health or ‘well-being’ in this era of discrimination, invisibility, and psychological warfare. You need an impermeable web of protection for your mind.” -Rheeda Walker, “The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help you Deserve.”

It’s no secret, there is a mental health crisis in America. According to a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, nine out 10 adults say they believe there is a mental health crisis in the U.S. today. Mental illness is one of the greatest threats to Americans and if your Black in America, you likely have normalized living with trauma or conflict.

The following impacts the daily psyche of Black people in America in a way that is unprecedented: 

  • Social economic disparities
  • Historical discrimination
  • Micro-aggressions
  • Alack of representation
  • The judicial and legal system
  • Health disparities
  • Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

While the stigma toward mental health has certainly become less taboo in the Black Community, there is still a strong reluctance and resistance to the acknowledgement of the mental welfare of Black people.

As humans, above all else, it is in our nature to try and survive. Despite the conditions, self-preservation will always be rule #1. The mind will adapt to living in unfavorable conditions. Living with these conditions long enough, can become “normal”. Therefore, it is not hard to conceptualize how a marginalized and oppressed group of people can believe there is nothing to address, and they do not have the bandwidth and/or general capacity to try and change their lives.

In the New York Times Bestseller “The Body Keeps the Score”, Bessel Van Der Kolk states:

“Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented, so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts and sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own. These fragments intrude into the present, where they are relived. Learned helplessness in animals. Maier and Seligmann repeatedly administered painful electric shocks to dogs trapped in locked cages. After several courses of shock, the researchers opened the cages and shocked them again. Dogs who had never been shocked before immediately ran away, but dogs who had been subject to “inescapable shock” before, made no attempt to flee. They stayed, whimpering, and defecating on themselves… Like these dogs, many traumatized people give up, rather than risk experimenting with new options (leaving the cage), they stay stuck in the fear they know.”

Creating a Better Mental Health Support System for BIPOC Populations
Munirat Adebimpe, NP, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

The fact is, it is up to the institutions that are responsible for creating a noteworthy and substantial level of distrust among Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) populations to now help them escape that “cage.” Unfortunately, few institutions place this at the forefront of their organization’s agendas, mission, purpose, or vision.

Often, when someone from the BIPOC population seeks mental health treatment, we either perpetuate their fears and anxieties or help them understand alternatives to healing while opening their minds. However, the question remains: how do we sustain that relationship?

BIPOC individuals shouldn’t have to come to us when they are so defeated that it results in being committed or admitted. We should be going to BIPOC individuals, organizations, and communities because America, and its multiple institutions ranging from politics to healthcare continue to be single handedly responsible for the disenfranchisement of people of color in healthcare, their suffering, and their unprecedented inability to ask for help.

When we tell our stories, we are viewed as strong and resilient. That is not okay. In 2021, The American Psychological Association issued an apology to people of color stating:

“The American Psychological Association failed in its role leading the discipline of psychology, was complicit in contributing to systemic inequities, and hurt many through racism, racial discrimination, and denigration of people of color, thereby falling short on its mission to benefit society and improve lives. APA is profoundly sorry, accepts responsibility for, and owns the actions and inactions of APA itself, the discipline of psychology, and individual psychologists who stood as leaders for the organization and field”.

Within this apology, the American Psychological Association provided resolutions. However, realistically, this apology likely did not reach the people and communities that needed to not only read this but feel validated in their distrust.

Again, the institutional systems of this country need to identity how they can not only own the centuries of systemic inequities but how they will approach BIPOC populations to engage in a process of healing, safety, and validation.


About the Authors
Gregory Brunson, Jr., BA:

Gregory is a Diversity Outreach Coordinator for the Memory and Aging Program. He received his bachelor’s degree from The University of Rhode Island in Communication Studies and has acquired a Diversity and Inclusion certificate from both Cornell and the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. Gregory has over 10 years of experience in Business Development.

In his role as Diversity Outreach Coordinator, Gregory collaborates with the clinical site staff, social media and Butler communications, and marketing teams to enhance participation and engagement from traditionally underrepresented communities and to raise awareness of the program and its mission.

He is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with national and regional organizations to build bridges to underrepresented racial, ethnic and geographical groups in the United States and establishing best practices for the Memory and Aging Program's clinical and observational research trials.

Munirat Adebimpe, NP:

Munirat is a full time, ANCC board certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at Butler Hospital and Patient Assessment Services/Psychiatric Emergency. She assesses, diagnoses, and treats individuals who present with emergent psychiatric needs.

In addition to emergency psychiatric work, she owns a private practice called “Remembering You: Psychiatric and Therapeutic Services (You in Mind)”. “Remembering You”, focuses on providing access to psychiatric, mental/behavioral health services for individuals in under-represented communities.

As a Nigerian American, Munirat has taken the time to understand and study the biases, stigmas, and struggles under-represented and multi-ethnic individuals and groups face and utilizes that knowledge in creating a treatment atmosphere that assists in the healing process for all her patients. The goal for Munirat, while helping as many individuals as possible, is also to assist people of color in discussing issues related to and regarding mental health.