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5 Factors That Affect Black Mental Health: A Discussion with Dr. Jameeka Moore, PsyD.

This conversation between our Executive Director, William Coleman & Dr. Jameeka Moore, is based on the article, "Five Factors That Affect Mental Health In The African American Community", written by Tanya St. John for Arundel Lodge Behavior Health.

To access her full article, please click here!

To access the full video of this Instagram LIVE conversation, please click here!

William: Thank you, Dr. Moore, for making the time to talk with us at the North Chicago Think Tank! Before we get started with this very important conversation, can you tell us a little bit about you & your background?

Dr. Jameeka Moore: Sure! I'm glad to be part of the conversation! My early education came from WPS and I've lived in Waukegan and Chicago for a large part of my life. I attended Northern Illinois University, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology. I've earned my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology with a focus on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I'm a licensed psychologist in Texas (38007) and Illinois. I currently reside and practice in Austin, Texas.(Click here to see Dr. Moore's complete BIO.)

William: It's really awesome to see African-American women from our local area doing great work in the field of science and psychology. So, let's get into this topic. When I was reading this article, I found it interesting that it noted very clearly that "mental health does not discriminate". Yet, when I think of my personal experience when trying to discuss mental health in the Black community, it was always framed under a discriminating notion that mental health services or "therapy" was for White people, or to be more specific, rich White people. At the end of the day, it is consistently communicated that psychology research and access to mental health services are not for Black people, especially Black people from lower-middle class environments. Have you seen that before?

Dr. Moore: Oh yeah! I think that's part of unpacking the stigma around seeking services for mental health that people traditionally see, outside of being specifically for a racially focused group, but also as being for a particular group they saw "in a negative light". Saying that's only for "white people" or using words like "crazy" in stigma fueling language, both of these have been and continue to be barriers for folks looking to seek treatment and can be exacerbated by the notion that providers are also not "look like me". People will say, "Therapy is for White folks." And we see that anecdotally in many communities.

William: Right! And that can be so dangerous for our community because, according to the article, "one (1) in four (4) Americans WILL experience a behavioral health disorder in ANY given year, regardless of age, race, religion, gender or economic status". So, this notion that being Black almost prevents you from needing these services can assist in increasing our vulnerability! Maybe a great way to challenge these unfounded notions is to talk directly about what psychology actually is. Dr. Moore can you explain to us what psychology is and how the life experience, regardless of race, plays into this?

Dr. Moore: Sure! When I'm talking about mental health, I am talking about psychological well being. Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling depressed? What is your mood like? Are you having difficulties sleeping or eating? It's about your emotional experience. It is also about how you think and process these experiences. It has social components. How are we socializing with other people? How are we impacted by the socialization that we've received from our parents and our communities? We are also looking at the community impact on mental health. We can often assume that it’s just about all of our own individual components that impact us, but we are ALSO impacted by the systems that we live in. Your emotional I.Q. plays a huge role in your psychological well being. Your ability to process and express emotions. There's a combination of factors that can make up your mental health, so when we're talking about mental health, we can't truly say, mental health or psychological services aren't "for" me. Everyone, regardless of race, has had a breakup or felt the anxiety of applying for a new job. Everyone, at some point in their life, has experienced a situation that was difficult for them because we can't live an anxiety free life or a life free of sadness or other emotions. Therapy is for you. It's problematic to look at a health service and take in or give communication that it's "not for you" because of an identity. We'd have to ask, why is it good for them and not for us? So, I think it's part of our responsibility within the culture as we become more aware of our health and the elements that affect our health, that we start to remove the damaging messaging as it applies to mental health and our willingness to do work to understand ourselves and heal.

William: Wow! That makes a lot of sense. It has been a huge part of my Black male identity to be scared for my intimate circle or larger community to see me as "broken" and that led to me refusing to seek out resources that could possible have me labeled as such. But, the more I research, the more I realize that therapy isn't for "broken" humans. It's about finding tools that help you deal with the experience of trauma. It's about investing in learning how your brain works naturally and when trauma happens. And Black people experience TRAUMA!

Dr. Moore: I'd like to build on that by saying, even within the paranoia that exists regarding medical health services, there is a realization that PHYSICALLY, we need physical health professionals. If our foot is injured, we go to the Dr. We should start to allow ourselves to recognize the need for mental health professionals as well. Let's start removing these stigmas that seem to only be applied to our mental health and address the damaging messaging.

William: I agree. We can start by looking at these 5 factors and seeing how they affect us as Black people.

Dr. Moore: Each of these elements are topics that can be explored in depth, but this brief conversation about how these impact Black mental health is important. When it comes to racism, you can experience anxiety and depression from traumatic experiences that Black people go through when you live a life that can make you feel like you have a target on your back. Even when we celebrate our Blackness, it does not stop the anxiety and impact it may have on our mental health and the physiological sensations that may occur, like heart racing, chest tightening or shaking and sweating. We have to acknowledge that chronic levels of existing in that state are NOT NORMAL. There are experiences that are not healthy to have on a day to day basis and we need to acknowledge when this happens and recognize that this is NOT a healthy part of the Black experience. When we see Black bodies being beaten and shot by police, in real life or on the news, there is a mental impact. This is trauma and trauma should be treated. Even if it's the act of acknowledging the proper language, that's a great step. Don't try to say I should be "stronger than this" and live with the shame that is being put on us for not "reacting appropriately" in the face of racism.

William: I never thought about it like that. Seeing Black bodies does have an effect and I guess I've just always gulped it down as if it were normal. If trained police are saying that they have unexpected reactions to fear and stress, why wouldn't I also have some sort of anxiety or mental reaction to the visuals of guns and violence being used on Black people, as a Black person? That gives me a lot to think about.

Let's talk about the second factor that could impact the mental health of Black people, religious beliefs. Now, when we are speaking on this factor, we are not saying that religious beliefs always negatively impact our mental health, but we are saying that if your religious organization is not educated about mental illness, it COULD POSSIBLE serve as a barrier to seeking actual therapeutic and professional services for mental illness.

Dr. Moore: Yeah, I'm a firm believer in the fact that two things can exist at once and I don't think this has to be an "either or" for our community. You can have a firm grasp on your faith and belief while ALSO taking full advantages of the health services required to secure your mental health. You can pray and worship in ways that fulfill your value system and acknowledge that the belief still requires work on your part to ensure your well being. Whether we are praying or manifesting, work is still part of this. We also have to look at the devaluing of mental health professionals within this. Many in the Black community may say, well, I'll just speak to my pastor about this. From a social organization perspective, that's great, but we must keep in mind that a pastor is not a clinical professional. Let's not forsake that people are going to school for a long period of time to learn about mental health disorders & diagnoses and to be educated enough to provide clinical & empirically supported treatment. This is a field of study that is grounded in science. While we can count on our friends, families and others to give advice, we should look to educated and trained professionals for treatment, including that for mental health. We can recognize the importance of pastors and others within our communities, while also recognizing the importance of physical and mental health professionals in our communities as well.

William: Yeah, I mean, I can pray for a six pack all day, but unless I change my behaviors, adjust my thinking and take the advice of health advisors, I won't get that six pack. The bible says faith without works is dead. (James 2:26) If we want to be healthy mentally, we have to do the work and mental health professionals can help us do just that. If our friends, family or loved ones choose to reach out to mental healthcare professionals, let's not shame them or cause further trauma by introducing the false notion that using these services is an indication of lack of faith or lack of trust in God.

The next factor that could impact our mental health as a Black person is poverty. It can feel shameful to accept some of these terms. It is part of some our life experience to never truly admit that we were in poverty. And this is an example of our stress being exacerbated or increased my multiple factors. Dr. Moore can you talk to us about this factor?

Dr. Moore: When I think about the impact of poverty, I really think about all of the things associated with poverty. I mean, with poverty comes the immediate impact of lack of resources, food deserts, homelessness, etc. This goes back to what I was saying earlier about recognizing the systems surrounding an individual and factoring in how that impacts their mental health. If we really want to be culturally competent providers, this work is necessary to truly help Black people. Even without a biological predisposition for a mental health issue, a stressor can still have impact on our health. Wondering if or how you are going to afford schooling or walking outside of your door and feeling unsafe can trigger anxiety and depression. While everything isn't traumatic, anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health issues that we face. So, your situation or the reality of your lived experience can really increase vulnerability, like living with poverty.

William: When I think about my experience with poverty and mental health, I think about the shame that came with my relationship with poverty. I was also told that my closeness to poverty was because I wasn't grinding enough or because I wasn't chasing the bag hard enough. It was really shameful and it made me think about money more often than I really wanted to. Even within that, I couldn't afford to miss work, so I wasn't resting. And if I did miss work to rest, I was busy thinking about the loss of money. It can really do damage to our mental health if we don't seek tools to manage it.

Dr. Moore: We can start parroting damaging rhetoric, like, "this is just the way it is" or "I need to just suck it up." and that can really cause mental anguish, stress and anxiety. There's this stigma that Black women must be "strong, independent, Black, women!" But, what does that mean? What does that do to my ability to express emotions in a healthy way? We can't make them mutually exclusive! I can be strong and still cry. I can be strong and still FEEL what it feels like to go through poverty as a Black woman. These motivations and the tools needed to do this can be found by creating a relationship with mental health providers. It’s healthy for us to be willing to use them without shame.

William: Like you said, these topics can each turn into conversations that could last for hours! Let's talk about our next factor, violence. Dr. Moore, can you talk to us about violence and how it could impact mental health?

Dr. Moore: I mean, this topic is so vast, but let's try to keep it concise. From a trauma standpoint, from young ages, we live in such a violence driven experience. The news, the movies, the video games and perhaps experiences in the home, neighborhood and community can all create a lived experience that could contribute to outcomes like depression, anxiety and PTSD. When you look at it racially, the injustices handed down from the judicial system can create trauma on top of trauma when Black people, especially teenagers and men are judged unfairly or harsher, leading to more traumatic experiences within the prison pipeline. Putting it as simple as I can put it, there are psychological outcomes that occur from violence in our community, similar to those that occur when we interact with racism, directly or indirectly. These affect Black mental health and we cannot deny that.

William: Wow! The more we discuss, that more I hope that more people see the importance of having mental health professionals and services available in their area. This brings us to our last factor, lack of provider cultural competency. Dr. Moore, your thoughts?

Dr. Moore: When we are talking about cultural competency that doesn't mean that your therapist has to be Black or a person of color. Even though it may be more comfortable for people.

There are a lot of really great therapists that are trained to be culturally competent and able to serve a need in our community. While I do want to acknowledge that there are therapists lacking in cultural competency, we don't want folks waiting until they see someone that physically represents them to seek out or accept services. Keep in mind that ethical values and our license requires us to provide ethically sound mental health services and depending on what you need, a provider may be of great service until you can find a therapist that better fits you culturally. If you find yourself with a therapist that isn't culturally competent, please find a therapist that is a better fit. I also have to say, we are seeing progress in the number of Black and other people of color in this field of science. Which is amazing and definitely needed.

William: That makes sense. Helpful therapy is helpful therapy no matter who's giving it to you. We hope to see more Black people and people of color in the scientific community and as that happens I hope more of us take advantage of the mental health services currently available in their area. I'd like to thank Dr. Jameeka Moore for taking the time to talk to us about this important topic. Please take a look at the informational graphic below and we hope you support us at the North Chicago Think Tank as we work to improve the relationship between the citizens of North Chicago and the scientific community.

If you are in need of mental health services and reside in North Chicago, please see the appropriate resources listed below.

  • Rosalind Franklin University / Interprofessional Community Clinic ICC: Behavioral Health Services (847) 578 - 8501

  • Lake County Health Department / Crisis Care Center (847) 377 - 8088

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