“This is a deterrent,” said Dr. Kali D. Cyrus, a psychiatrist at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C., and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University. Talking about your family’s business with a white person — much less an outsider — is often discouraged in the Black community, added Dr. Cyrus, who is Black.
Most mental health care for children takes place in public schools via school psychologists or counselors. This is especially true in low-income districts where other resources are scarce. But these professionals are also in short supply.
Even when mental health professionals are available, research has shown that Black adolescents’ depression often goes untreated because of negative perceptions of services and providers or feelings of shame about experiencing depressive symptoms.
“Black families don’t typically have literacy in discussing ‘feelings’ with each other,” Dr. Cyrus said in an email. “There is also the strong value of ‘keeping your business out of the street.’”
Ever since Kathy Williams’s teenage son Torian Graves took his life in 1996, she has been teaching the people in her hometown, Durham, N.C., about the symptoms she missed and the importance of mental health treatment. But the stigma is still strong, she said. Some parents are afraid of being judged and don’t trust therapists. Sometimes they say: “Just pray about it. It will go away.”
Yes, she said, prayer is good. But treating mental illness requires more than that.
After her son died, she found a poem in his room that he had written as a class assignment.
Part of me is Carolina Blue,
Full of Flavor and Excitement,
Like a Wild Rollercoaster
On the Loose.
But, At times,
I’m mean, dark, lonely,
Black, mad at the world,
Like a lost dog in the desert,
Yet, they are both true,
And they are both me.