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Posted on 06/11/2020

Black Lives Matter. Black Mental Health Matters Too

Black Lives Matter. Black Mental Health Matters Too

May 25, 2020, Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd desperately mutters the words “I can’t breathe.” For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, George begged a police officer to take his knee off his neck. Out of those 8 minutes and 46 seconds, George was lifeless for 3 minutes. No motion, no pulse, and not one police officer attempting to revive him. After paramedics arrived to help George, the police officer kept his knee on George’s neck for yet another full minute. Leading up to George’s death, he cried out for his mother.

George Floyd, Treyvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and so many more have broken the hearts of our nation with their senseless deaths. Currently more of our nation's majority are realizing what black people have known for years, our justice system has two standards, one for the majority and one for people of color. People are speaking up not to demand that black people become valued higher than others, but they are demanding that black lives be valued at the same level.

There are many good cops, lawyers and judges in our justice system, but it is time that they are empowered and required to stand against the inequalities for people of all color. Our nation's incarceration statistics and poverty statistics clearly show that black lives haven't mattered as much, therefore it is time for change. Families grieving, communities divided, and a nation fighting for basic human rights. When will this end? When will we realize that the color of our skin is nothing but just a color? When will there finally be justice?

With tears in my eyes and a heavy weight on my heart, I write this as a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a future mental health professional.

13% of our country is Black. 16% were diagnosed with a mental illness in just one year. That 16% equates to almost 7 million people. What about that other 84%? Chances are, they did not seek professional help for their mental health. Unfortunately in society there is this unrealistic stigma behind seeking mental health services. Many have the attitude that we shouldn't talk about it or that we should be embarrassed of our mental health issues. We should hide it to seem “normal”. Meanwhile suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Almost 50,000 suicide deaths per year, with 1.4 million attempts. Just a few examples of why Black Americans are at risk for suicide are as follows; psychological distress, substance abuse, access to firearms, social isolation, homelessness, exposure to violence, family dysfunction, exposure to racial inequality, and a history of suicide attempts. The Black community often times does not utilize mental health resources for the following reasons; they are not in close proximity to their needed services, they lack insurance coverage, there is a stigma behind mental health, and their lack of trust in some medical professionals.

Do we see an ongoing issue here? I know I do. If Black lives matter, then Black mental health has to matter too. Only one third of Black Americans who need mental health services actually receive treatment. What about the two thirds who are desperate for help but cannot receive it? They are crying out for help but they are not being heard. They are hiding their pain because they feel they have to. They are not open about their problems because they already feel judged enough. Imagine living a life where just the color of your skin often times defines you. Imagine having to worry every day that people will deny you your basic rights because of who you are. Imagine constantly having to look over your shoulder to make sure that you are safe. How is that for equality?

To the Black community; I stand with you, I will listen to you, and I will advocate for you. To George Floyd and all of the other innocent lives taken; we will fight for you, we will make sure your memory lives on, and we will not give up until justice is served. To our society; we need to end discrimination, we need to break the mental health stigma, and we need to fight for equality. At the end of the day, none of us are equal until all of us are equal.

If you or anyone you know is struggling during this time, please find a resource near you or call an emergency mental health service hotline. There are many people who care, and I assure you I am one of them.

Layla Farivar is a writer, student and an observer of human behavior and history. She is currently working on her Masters degree in Clinical Psychology.

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