Overcoming Barriers: Getting Support for Black Mental Health

Overcoming Barriers: Getting Support for Black Mental Health

Black mental health is shaped by several historical, cultural, and systemic factors. From economic disparities to systemic oppression, the Black community grapples with mental health challenges that deserve understanding, compassion, and cultural sensitivity.

Mental health conditions within the Black community often fly under the radar, but the rates of mental health conditions are similar to those in the white community. Stigma, disparities, and other challenges can make getting professional support tougher though. In fact, only one in three Black Americans get mental health treatment. By breaking down barriers and knowing what type of care to look for, we can foster positive change.

Barriers to Black mental health

Difficulties like oppression, historical trauma, and cultural beliefs can create an environment that makes it harder for members of the Black community to get mental health support. Some of the barriers that stand between Black people and mental health treatment include:


According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the stigma around mental health conditions is pervasive and can be particularly strong within the Black community. One study found that 63% of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness. Stigma is a powerful deterrent against seeking help for mental health in the Black community.

Cultural mistrust and lack of representation

Cultural mistrust refers to a hesitancy among Black Americans to trust white Americans, especially in a therapeutic setting. Black Americans may have personally experienced unjust treatment by white Americans or observed these experiences in the lives of friends and family. Paired with systemic oppression, this can cause Black people to fear feeling vulnerable to white people in personal and professional settings.

Black individuals may prefer Black therapists, but only 4% of psychologists in America identify as Black or African American. Such small representation among Black mental health providers may create barriers to treatment.


A disproportionate number of Black Americans live at or below the poverty level or lack health insurance. These financial barriers can dramatically affect their ability to access mental health services. Black Americans may find it difficult to find services in their area at all, especially ones that are affordable.

Distorted perceptions of strength

People in the African American community may believe that being “strong” means they don’t face mental or emotional difficulties, feel sad or stressed, or have realistic responses to traumatic situations. The perceived need to stay “strong” can prolong suffering and make it hard to express feelings and ask for help, even when it’s offered by friends or family.

Perceptions of airing “dirty laundry”

The belief that personal issues should stay within families and “behind closed doors” is a common barrier to seeking mental health services in the Black community. When people express a desire to pursue these services, family and friends may discourage it, believing it’s inappropriate to share personal information with a professional.

Belief that mental health treatment is unnecessary

Communities of color often avoid mental health services because they don’t see themselves as the type of person who needs counseling. If they aren’t in crisis or haven’t exhausted all other options for help, members of the Black community may believe their problem isn’t “bad enough” to warrant outside help.

Mental distress disguised as physical distress

For many people, emotional distress shows up through physical symptoms. For example, someone experiencing a high level of anxiety may describe a stomachache, headache, or lack of appetite rather than intense fear, panic, or worry. This is common among Black Americans, and can occur with any number of stressful or traumatic events, including race-based stress.

Complex health care systems

Navigating insurance coverage and the health care system can be confusing and time-consuming. Research suggests that many Americans lack access to information that builds mental health literacy, which makes it difficult to engage in treatment or know when they need to seek it.

Religion as a replacement for care

People in the Black community may feel pressure to choose between their religious beliefs and their desire to receive mental health services. Even though the two are not mutually exclusive, and each fulfills a different need, prayer and pastoral counseling are often used as a replacement for Black mental health support.

Systemic barriers

A disproportionate number of Black Americans are jailed or imprisoned. Black people with mental health diagnoses are also more likely than those of other races to be imprisoned. Robust mental health care is harder to come by in a prison environment, leaving many people to deal with their problems alone and less effectively.

How to find culturally responsive care

Finding culturally responsive care is important for Black mental health and can be tough if you don’t know where to start. A culturally competent therapist:

  • Works to comprehend your unique experiences and how they contribute to mental health disparities in the Black community
  • Validates your experience of stigma and discrimination
  • Asks clarifying questions to understand your unique experiences
  • Apologizes and does repair work for errors or communication that could be interpreted as microaggression if from a different culture
  • Customizes care to your individual needs and background
  • Uses evidence-based practices like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)

How can you find a culturally responsive therapist? Here are a few tips:

Review therapist profiles

Look for indications on online profiles such as saying they practice evidence-based therapies, affirmative therapy, or have experience working with diverse populations.

Use your mental health benefit

With Lyra, you can quickly find care tailored to your needs. Lyra’s therapists and mental health coaches are trained in evidence-based, culturally responsive care. Over 40% of Lyra’s providers identify as Black, indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC). And members receive care at no cost, or low cost, making it easy to access effective care.

Take care of your mental health

Embracing your mental health is a courageous step, and reaching out for support is a powerful act of self-care. You’re not alone, and there’s support ready to uplift you on your path to healing.

Get culturally responsive mental health support.

You can get started today if your employer offers Lyra.

Sign up now
About the reviewer
Andrea Holman, PhD

Dr. Holman is a DEI&B program manager on the workforce transformation team at Lyra Health. Previously, she served as a tenured associate professor of psychology at Huston-Tillotson University. She served as co-chair of the health and wellness working group for the city of Austin's task force on Institutional Racism & Systemic Inequities and now works as a leader in the nonprofit Central Texas Collective for Race Equity that resulted from the task force. She has conducted research on understanding the psychological experience of African Americans and racial advocacy from the perspective of Black and Latinx Americans. She has contributed to articles (including publications in The Counseling Psychologist and Harvard Business Review), book chapters, national conference presentations, virtual seminars, workshops, and a number of podcasts on these subjects.

Clinically reviewed by
Andrea Holman, PhD
Program Manager, Workforce Transformation
By The Lyra Team
1 of February 2024 - 5 min read
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