“Only White People get Mental Illnesses”
“Only white people get mental illnesses.” What a provocative statement. How controversial! It is quite perturbing to hear this statement uttered time and time again when a person of colour is confronted with the possibility that they might not be coping with what life is dishing up for them at that given season/time. It is a statement that is not only perturbing to the people of colour who might be struggling with their mental health, but can also be for their Caucasian counterparts, because let us be real, there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and/or mental illness, mainly due to misconceptions and ignorance. In turn, this can be quite disappointing for mental health practitioners, because “Wow, we have a long way to go.” The state of mental health in the black communities is outrageous. According to research (cited in an article by Dr Vance, 2019), the adult Black community is 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems, such as Major Depressive Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Even though this is the case, acknowledging the struggle and seeking help is avoided more times than not.
How many times have we heard people of colour say, “Hai, only white people get mental illnesses”. If someone of colour is to ever present with symptoms of distress and/or any mental or psychiatric illness, it usually gets attributed to witchcraft and/or other spiritual forces. “You don’t pray enough”, some would say. Even though this might be something that is real to some, as a person’s beliefs, norms, values, and language, plays a vital role in every aspect of one’s life, including mental health, the presentation of the psychiatric illness symptoms being due to biological/or and psychological reasons is often not even given the time of day. Giving it the time of day, in many communities, would mean that ‘your body has failed you’, ‘you are not strong enough’, you are so weak’. It is believed that because it is biological/psychological in nature, there is something wrong with the individual, which brings a lot of shame and embarrassment to the individual who is already struggling. A lot of people do not speak out or even try to ask for help because the etiology of the mental illness will be a point of interest, discussed without understanding the facts and without empathy, but rather with judgment and sympathy.
But besides the etiology of the psychiatric illnesses being a big discussion point in black communities, mainly coming from a place of ignorance, there are other factors that contribute to the state of mental health in the black communities. To name a few, these include trying to avoid being labelled ‘crazy’ or ‘weak’, the sole use of one coping strategy, lack of access to mental health care services, mistrust of the mental health care system, lack of clinicians of colour/clinicians who are culturally sensitive (competent), and other personal (individual) factors, such as not trusting other people easily.
As someone who is in the mental health field and has had experience working in government institutions, it is also important to note that even though there are free mental health care services at these government institutions, the clinician-to-patient ratio is bizarre. The patient waiting list is so long, which often contributes to the clinicians taking on more than they can handle, working long hours, getting burned out, and not to mention, feeling helpless at times.
All of these factors show how complex mental health, especially in black communities, is. What people need to acknowledge is that one’s mental health is just as important as one’s physical health and deserves the same attention, compassion, understanding and resources.
Mental Health Care Services in South Africa
Government facilities offer free mental health care services from different qualified and experienced mental health professionals, such as clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and other professionals, such as social workers and occupational therapists.
- Community Clinics
- Community Hospitals
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG):
- Call: 011 234 4897
- Suicide Emergency: 0800 567 567
- WhatsApp: 076 882 2772
SA Suicide Crisis:
- 0800 21 22 23
- 0800 12 13 14
Lifeline 24/7 National Toll Free Counselling Line:
- 0861 322 322
- 065 989 9238
Family and Marriage Society of South Africa (FAMSA):
- 011 975 7101
- 0800 000 3081
Private and Other Facilities:
These facilities include facilities that can be found in-house in different institutions or companies and independently registered professionals, such as:
- Independently HPCSA-registered Clinical psychologists
- Independently HPCSA-registered Counselling psychologists
- Independently HPCSA-registered Registered counsellors
- Independently HPCSA-registered Psychiatrists
- Student counsellors
- Employee wellness agencies, etc.
Your mental health matters too!
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