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Black History Month Examining How Historical Trauma Impacts Mental Health Today

Historical adversity, such as slavery and exclusion to experiences and resources due to race, create social and economic disparities for generations. Although rates of mental illness among the Black population are comparable to rates of the White population, Black people are likely to experience more persistent symptoms and greater negative impact to their lives due to multiple factors, many of which have historical implications. This impact on socioeconomic status influences mental health, risk of substance abuse and homelessness, disparities in incarceration rates, and ability to access care.

Not only is the Black community faced with the historical implications of racism, racism is encountered in today's world regularly, whether overtly or through microaggressions. Racial trauma increases a person's risk of meeting criteria for a mental health diagnosis, particularly PTSD. It also increases the likelihood of experiencing physical symptoms as well, such as an increase in stress hormones, and high blood pressure.

Cultural incompetence due to historical racism and cultural assumptions among healthcare providers may lead to misdiagnosis of Black people presenting for care. According to Mental Health America, “One study found that physicians were 23 percent more verbally dominant and engaged in 33 percent less patient-centered communication with Black patients than with White patients.” Culturally competent care is imperative in hearing patients, believing their experiences, and in turn supporting their needs to achieve wellbeing. Informed care can help reduce the stigma around seeking mental health care by providing Black and African Americans greater confidence in the system that has misserved them.

Black and African Americans have been pioneers in advocating for understanding, and appropriate care to better serve the needs of the BIPOC community. These pioneers understand the impacts of historical trauma and how that presents in the mental health space. They are also making systemic changes that better support appropriate care and remove the stigma associated with receiving treatment. Increased knowledge by all healthcare workers and community members about mental health and contributing factors are critical in shifting beliefs and assumptions, and supporting the Black and African American community in receiving the care deserved.

To read more about Black Pioneers in Mental Health, check out Mental Health America’s list of important contributors in the field.

At Plymouth Psych Group we recognize the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.

We strive to provide culturally competent and compassionate care and have a diverse team of professionals passionate about serving the community. May we all take time this month and beyond to learn about and celebrate the achievements and resilience of Black and African American leaders and community members. Let us reflect on how we can all contribute to a more supportive space in mental health care and in our communities.

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