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Reducing the stigma around therapy in the Black community

Historical oppression against Black and African Americans has led to mistrust in the healthcare system and inadequate access to healthcare.

HOUSTON — Therapy is a place where you often have an opportunity to reflect, become more self-aware and work on things that have impacted you, but often in the Black community, counseling is not encouraged.

Jessica Johnson-Hewitt was sexually abused as a child. She told her mother, who took her to their family doctor, and then, to a psychologist. 

"In the beginning, talking about my experience was very difficult," she said. “Triggering the memories associated with that were hard. But, after I started gaining trust in my mental health provider and having good dialog about what I was experiencing, the fears went away.” 

Johnson-Hewitt, a Black woman, has been taking care of her mental health for years, but historical oppression against Black and African Americans has led to mistrust in the healthcare system, not to mention inadequate access to healthcare.

“If mental healthcare is something that you see, oh this happens but not within my community, then, of course, it’s going to reinforce that stigma,” said Dr. Andrea Taylor, a UT Physicians Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

Family beliefs also come into play when dealing with mental health.  

“Stigma is not just about the person themselves," said Dr, Taylor. "Some of the stigma for Black and brown people is not only what will people think of me, but how will this reflect on my family? What will my family think of me?” 

For many, acknowledging that there’s a mental health issue happening is perceived as a sign of weakness instead of a sign of wisdom.

“Some of our other mental health issues, some of what can come with that is suicidal ideation or attempts," Dr. Taylor said. "What many people don’t realize is that’s not a weakness, that is a symptom of a condition that again can be treated.”

Mental health issues are actually healthcare conditions that need to be treated. That treatment could be lifesaving.

For those experiencing a mental health crisis, know that help is out there. Simply call or text 9-8-8 for free support. 

Resources for suicide prevention

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs of suicide and taking them seriously. Talking openly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life.

If you or anyone you know is in need of help, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text the lifeline at 741741 or chat online here.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States.

You can also reach out to UT Physicians here.

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