Why Taking Mental Disorder Seriously Is Important In The Black Community

By Dawn Boykin

As real as mental illness is in the black community, it remains a taboo subject that few are willing to admit exists.

Mental illness among black people is often ignored, denied or not taken seriously.

For instance, people in the black community are afraid of seeking help for mental conditions because we fear judgment from others or we do not accept the diagnosis that our child is mentally ill.

When our child is diagnosed with mental disease, there has to be something wrong with the doctor or ironically the doctor doesn’t know what she is talking about.

We go as far as to make up excuses to cover up the signs of mental illness.

I have heard stories from parents who have been told that their child should be treated for a mental disorder. Each time, the parents denied that their child had the diagnosed condition.

I have witnessed the suggestion that a child be held back a grade in school or to be transferred to a special education program because of a learning disorder.

Time and time again, the parents angrily decline. Continuously, the parents are trying to convince themselves that there is nothing wrong with their child.

Instead, the child is physically punished for acting out in school and for failing to complete assignments. All the while, the child has Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, or another mental condition that is preventing the child from excelling at the appropriate rate.

What is with black people, that we will not consider the possibility of mental illness?

Remember, children become adults. If these issues are not tackled early on, they will become bigger problems in the long run.

Stating that you are not “claiming” a mental illness will not make it go away.


If your arm is broken, you go to the doctor to have a cast put on. If you have cancer, you have chemotherapy. If you have a bacterial infection, you take penicillin.

In essence, claiming to not have caner will not make the cancer disappear.

Seeing the appropriate specialist, seeking treatment and following through will yield the most beneficial outcomes.

Similarly, going to church and praying a condition away will not miraculously cure you either.

Whenever I talk to family members about the possibility of mental disorder, I am met with uncomfortable silence. I feel like we grew up in different places or that I was the only one affected mentally by certain circumstances.

Perhaps I am the only one being honest.

Once, a friend told me that her daughter was suffering from the death of her daughters’ grandmother. That she was not eating, sleeping or speaking. She was just 4 years old at the time. I asked her if she’d considered taking her to see a therapist. He reply was that she didn’t want the hospital in her business.

I couldn’t believe that this mother, who claimed to love her daughter, would allow her to suffer only to protect her own reputation and hide behind what was happening to her child. I am certain that her daughter was depressed.

Depression, Schizophrenia, bipolar, suicide, ADHD and other mental illness are real in the black community.

This fact can’t be denied, ignored or covered up. If we do not take responsibility and stop behaving like we are exempt or not affected then we will continue to suffer.

It is time that we take a stand. We need to be true to ourselves for the sake of our future growth as a community. We need to be concerned with our health and wellbeing. We need to be true to ourselves. This is just another problem that will not allow us to rise above other adversities. Since we are not concerned with dealing with our mental illness, our mental illnesses consume us and we are left broke and broken. With nowhere left to go but down.

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