Depression and Learning From Other Cultures–Part 2

There are several areas to examine that tell us why African Americans will not partake of the medical model or ask for an invitation to the drug company’s medication orgy.

First and foremost is the discrimination barrier. One must take a chronological view of the African American experience in this country with its  history of slavery, racism and dehumanizing of this population.

This long and devastating oppression is the foundation for mistrust, for underlying expectations that the system, in general, is not going to meet the needs of African Americans.

We are aware that racism still exists, that the degrading experiences of the older generations are transferred to the succeeding generations through narratives and then confirmed by current racial conflicts.

Racism exists and is a foundation for this community’s low participation in mental health and related systems of care.

We add to this the stigma that continues to be attached to “mental illness” within our society. African Americans are not isolated from the fear of carrying and being labeled “mentally ill.”

The stigma doubles when added to racism and reinforces the perception that being Black and labeled mentally ill are designations to avoid.

“The first thing they say is “Oh, she’s crazy.” Always acting crazy, you know what I mean? You don’t wanna be referred to as crazy. You might want to be referred to as mentally ill, you know. ‘Cause mentally ill sounds more better than “Oh, I’m crazy!” You know what I mean? Oh, there’s definitely a stigma”.

Another Barrier

The third barrier is embedded in the mental health systems of care. Being Black and labeled mentally ill puts the individual at a disadvantage when trying to access care. African Americans point to the white-dominant attitudes that prevail among doctors and other treating specialists and lack of cultural sensitivity.

African Americans report that they receive fewer sessions, are more quickly hospitalized and directed to medication treatments instead of therapy because of racial disparity. They point out that Caucasian doctors do not take into account that African American women are heads of households and, as such, have obligations to multiple people and cannot spend time or funds in treatment.

They report that most treating individuals are Caucasian and this makes them feel uncomfortable.

When asked by an interviewer about trying to contact a helping person in a mental health clinic, the individual stated that in the initial phone call, he was identified as Black and he believes that his needs were not addressed because of his race:

These are things that we, I think, as blacks—we’re not told about… If you make a phone call and they discover that you are black, then they transfer you to someone else, and by the end of the day, you don’t wanna talk to anyone. You say, Forget it, I’ll just sit here and keep it to myself… So we have to get information…by word of mouth from somebody else. We really don’t get it from the professionals or the agencies or the people who (handle) it. We just get it from a friend. You know. And hopefully, you had a white friend to tell you.”

Depression and Learning From Other Cultures–Part 2

Margaret Altman, LCSW, MSW

Margaret Altman is a crisis intervention specialist and has intervened in many explosive situations within jails, emergency rooms, suicide prevention centers and psychiatric units. She is a featured writer on the Mad in America website and has more more than 35 years of experience as an LCSW in psychiatry, corrections and private practice. Her book, "Developing Your Child’s Emotional Intelligence" is on Amazon. Margaret currently focuses on issues of minority and marginalized populations in order to give them a voice in the mental health domain.


APA Reference
Altman, M. (2015). Depression and Learning From Other Cultures–Part 2. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 19, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 31 Jul 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 31 Jul 2015
Published on All rights reserved.