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Opinion: Mental health crisis within the African American community

The African American community disproportionately experiences mental health struggles, yet the stigmas surrounding mental illness often lead many individuals to not seek the help they need.
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/talyaryngler/" target="_self">Talya Ryngler</a>

Talya Ryngler

October 17, 2022
Mental illness and suicide are unfortunately on an upward climb within the African American community.

In January 2022, former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst took her own life. She accomplished a great deal in her life. Apart from winning the Miss USA title in 2019 as one of the most memorable African American contestants, she was also a Top Ten finisher in the Miss Universe contest.

On top of such great accomplishments, she was also a lawyer and a correspondent on the TV show “Extra.” When the New York police found her body on West 42nd St., the police concluded that she must have fallen from an elevated position and her cause of death was suicide.

Around that same time, upcoming African American musician and songwriter Ian King Jr., who is also actress Regina King’s son, died by suicide. A few months later, in May 2022, 19-year-old cheerleader Arlana Miller, who was a Black student at Southern University and A&M College in Louisiana, committed suicide.

Unfortunately, these are just some of many suicide deaths that have recently plagued the African American community.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though the overall rate of suicide has decreased, the rate of suicide amongst young people of color has increased.

I am deeply concerned about these tragedies, and I understand why they are happening within my community. Growing up in a South African family, I was not encouraged to talk about mental health.

In our culture, we are supposed to always be tough and strong, never burdening our family and community with any problem. Some people within my community even regard mental illness as a form of “craziness.”

This is why many people in my community feel too afraid to seek therapy or other forms of help for their mental health struggles.

My personal experiences are shared by many South African and other African American teenagers. A recent survey conducted by Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) found that up to 70% of South African students were not getting the necessary mental health support that they needed. Students were battling anxiety and stress all on their own regarding their education, personal relationships and physical health.

Worst of all, with the increase of anti-Black violence occurring around the nation, African Americans experience poor mental health when being exposed to these traumatic incidents.

According to the 2012-17 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, African Americans suffered more mental health activity during the time when two or more anti-Black violence happened compared to White American respondents, whose mental health did not significantly change in connection to anti-Black violence.

When I think about my own community, I can see many of my friends having trouble processing the recent violence and socioeconomic inequalities that target the African American community.

Sadly, since these issues are not widely discussed within my community, I see more and more of my friends dealing with anxiety and depression. And yet, very few of them are seeking help, which is often looked upon negatively within my environment.

I am starting to understand the hesitancy to seek help. South Africa is ranked as one of the worst countries in the world regarding mental health resources. Even though trauma is common in South Africa, which stems from a higher rate of homicide, rape and domestic violence, South Africans are still falling far behind in getting the mental health treatment they need and deserve.

Knowing all this, I feel an even deeper desire to speak up and incite change. The African American community needs an honest discussion about mental health.

Most importantly, we need to destigmatize the widespread negative perceptions about mental illness so more people can get help. Hopefully, by talking more about mental health within the African American community, we can save many more lives and support those who are silently suffering.