African Americans

Texas is home to over 3 million African Americans, the third most populous state for this community.  According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, African Americans, while representing 12% of the total population, are 20% more likely to report having severe psychological distress as Non-Hispanic whites.  At the same time, African Americans only comprise 2% of psychiatrists, 2% of psychologists and 4% of social workers.  Further, minority populations generally are underrepresented in mental health research.  As a result, it is important to understand several important factors impacting mental health and mental illness in the African American community.


Poverty and homelessness are disproportionately higher in African American communities and there is a correlation between economic condition and the prevalence of mental disorders.  In 2010, nearly 25% of African Americans were living in poverty in the United States.   The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services-Office of Minority Health reports a correlation between poverty and mental health, indicating that African American populations living below the poverty level are three times more likely to report psychological distress than those who are living at over twice the poverty level.

Further, homeless is also a factor for mental disorders.  According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, although African Americans represent 12% of the total U.S. Population, this community accounts for approximately 40% of the homeless population.


Concurrent with socio-economic considerations is access to competent, affordable care.   In the United States, one-third of working African Americans are uninsured, and the overall uninsured rate for African Americans is approximately 20%.   As a result, access to mental health care is greatly impacted and is often initiated with a primary care physician.


Mental illness is often misunderstood and the stigma associated with mental illness often prevents persons affected with symptoms to seek expertise.   African Americans are more likely to rely on family, religious and social support rather than seeking out mental health professionals. As a result, community support systems such as churches and primary care physicians play a crucial role in addressing mental illness and mental disorders within the African American community. Access to culturally competent care is essential in addressing mental health in this community.


Mental illness often manifests differently in African American populations relative to other races and ethnicities yet minority populations are underrepresented in mental health research. Behavioral symptoms and medicine metabolism are believed to occur differently in African American populations than in Non-Hispanic White populations. As a result, African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their White counterparts. For instance, schizophrenia has been shown to be over diagnosed in the African American population.


Mental illness affects everyone and children are no exception. Further, some of the underlying socio-economic factors discussed above affect children disproportionately; nearly 4 in 10—almost half— of African American children live inpoverty, creating barriers to mental health care. African American children are particularly vulnerable to mental disorders.  While the death rate from suicide for African Americans generally is approximately 60% lower than for Non-Hispanic White population, suicide rates for African American youth and young adults have been growing faster compared to other races and ethnicity groups.


National Alliance for Mental Illness