James first began experiencing symptoms of depression around late 2018. He would wake up feeling sad and not know why and became more withdrawn from friends and family. He tried to push through these feelings but when his friends voiced their concerns, he realized he may be experiencing depression.
“Historically, in Black communities, we’ve often pursued other means of addressing our mental well-being, like going to church or praying, for example,” said James, whose father was a Baptist minister. “And so, for me, this idea of seeking mental health care or even being depressed in the first place is not something that was openly discussed in my family or within my group of friends.”
According to James, one of the reasons mental health is missing from conversations is the stigma attached to it. “In Black communities, especially Black men, we are taught at a young age that we have to be strong… we have to be the protectors.”
Those experiencing mental health symptoms can feel they are straying from that narrative and, as a result, opening themselves up to being judged by others. In fact, 54 percent of Black respondents to a 2021 BCBSA survey2 reported that individuals with mental health conditions in their communities “are looked down upon.” By contrast, this perception was noticeably less common among white respondents, with 38 percent reporting this view.
James said a root cause of the stigma can be found in “the historical context of where Black people have come from, from slavery to Jim Crow to racial segregation.” He thinks about the segregation and racial trauma his parents and others experienced growing up in the South and the changes that have taken place over the years.
“I think that the previous generation, they look at our current experience and say, ‘You’re depressed? Your life is great compared to ours.’