Promoting Mental Health in the Black Community
When clinical psychologist Nicole Cammack saw a void in the mental health system — one that failed to address the racial disparity in mental illness treatment — she filled it herself.
During her four years working at a military base with Black active-duty service members, Cammack, 38, who is herself African American, was struck by the lack of psychological resources specific to the Black community. She had been working with clients who were dealing with anxiety, depression, and trauma but didn’t even know it.
Cammack said that, as a trained psychologist, in her research, she found that mental illness sometimes presented itself differently in Black men and women than it might in people of other races. That, she said, was likely why her clients didn’t realize what mental health issues they were facing. She was seeking tools and resources to explain to her clients that certain physical symptoms — like headaches or fatigue, for example — could be linked back to a psychological issue.
“I was trying to explain to them that this is depression, this is anxiety,” recalled Cammack, “but I got pushback because it didn't look like traditional anxiety and depression. They weren't paying attention to how depression can look different among Black women and Black men.”
Not only that, she knew it would be important to show her clients that there were in fact Black mental health practitioners like herself who understand cultural factors specific to Black communities.
"Black Mental Wellness seeks to decrease the stigma around mental illness in the Black community by fostering a community where mental health is discussed openly and freely."
Instead of waiting for a solution, Cammack created these tools and resources herself. And soon the idea for Black Mental Wellness was born.
Cammack founded the Washington, D.C.-based practice with three other clinical psychologists, with the goal of providing individuals and communities with evidence-based mental health resources from a Black perspective. Additionally, Black Mental Wellness seeks to decrease the stigma around mental illness in the Black community by fostering a community where mental health is discussed openly and freely.
Although the idea for Black Mental Wellness was conceived in 2016, the Black Lives Matter movement and COVID-19 have only highlighted the need for organizations like this that specifically cater to the mental health needs of Black individuals.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five Americans experiences mental illness regardless of race, but Black individuals are more likely to report feelings of psychological distress as compared to adult white individuals, as per the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Furthermore, a 2018 study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicated that, from 2015 to 2018, depressive episodes increased from 6.1% to 9.4% in Black young adults.
Rates of mental illness among the Black population, although up from 2015, are still more or less in line with the general population, according to the American Psychiatric Association. The issue, however, is that Black people might face significant barriers to receiving care, such as stigma around mental health, lack of culturally diverse providers, and the lack of practitioners with diverse racial backgrounds, to name a few, as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association’s findings on mental health disparities.
How Do I Get Help?
Tamika Reeves, a Michigan-based clinical therapist, also hopes to end mental illness stigma in the Black community. She knows how crucial it is to have racially diverse practitioners in this field, which is why she’s grateful for organizations like Black Mental Wellness, whose mission she feels aligns with her own.
“Historically, the concept of mental health really wasn’t made for Black people,” said Reeves. “Traditionally, we didn't see clinicians who look or talk like us, so that also kept us away.”
Since the pandemic and the spreading of the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Mental Wellness has seen a significant increase in requests for mental resources, speaking engagements, and collaborations, Cammack said.
The goal of Black Mental Wellness isn’t just about providing the tools and resources to educate about mental illness, but it’s also about cultivating a passion for mental health in the Black community. This is accomplished through social media, as well as through events and workshops.
Shayla Colbert, 38, got involved with Black Mental Wellness while she was dealing with her own mental health issues. Cammack noticed that Colbert was heavily involved in the community — constantly commenting on content and sharing resources — so Cammack got in touch, and soon Colbert became an ambassador for Black Mental Wellness, where she reaches out to outside parties for potential collaborations and spreads awareness about mental health disparities.
“I want people of color to support our efforts,” said Colbert. “It’s very much needed, and I think this is just the groundwork for African Americans to heal and thrive.”
These days, while in-person meetings are on hold, Black Mental Wellness holds virtual workshops and community-building events. On a Sunday in late July, they hosted a virtual event via Zoom called Feed Your Mind, a workshop designed to give Black people a safe space to explore identity and process the emotional impact of the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic. The Black Mental Wellness co-founders led virtual breakout sessions, where they guided participants through discussions and journal prompts.
As Cammack noted, “It’s beautiful to see that, in the midst of these unique stressors, that on the forefront of Black people’s mind is, ‘How do I get help?’ ”