Black History Month 2024

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti
Updated February 6, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Black History Month begins on February 1 every year and is a nationally and federally recognized observance that occurs every February. Many nonprofits, federal organizations, museums, college campuses, and community groups offer specific events, educational opportunities, special assemblies, and more to honor this month each year. 

One often highlighted area of focus for Black History Month in more recent years is mental health for Black communities. This may include awareness of the history of common mental health challenges due to the lived experiences of being a person of color in the United States, as well as disparities in the availability and quality of mental health care. Learning how you can care for your own mental health or be an ally in this way during Black History Month can be valuable ways to get involved.

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Celebrate Black History Month by caring for your mental health

What is Back History Month? 

Black History Month typically focuses heavily on the historical contributions and accomplishments of Black individuals. However, it can also serve to amplify important conversations about current events and social movements impacting Black communities across the United States. For example, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement continues to spread awareness and encourage action toward freedom, liberation, and justice for Black individuals and communities across the country. For many, part of observing Black History Month in February and year-round may be learning about and participating in efforts toward anti-racism and Black liberation. You can read about the latest updates in the BLM movement’s transparency report.

Negro History Week

The origins of Black History Month go back to at least 1915, when what is now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) was founded by Harvard historian Carter G. Woodson and minister Jesse E. Moorland. In 1925, the organization conceptualized the first first Negro History Week, which later became referred to as African American History Week. It was celebrated each February because abolitionist Frederick Douglass and former American President Abraham Lincoln were both born in this month. President Lincoln and Douglass were both born in mid-February, and African Americans have long celebrated this time with emancipation celebrations.

This week to celebrate African roots and culture and putting negro history first continued to be observed through 1976. It was historically significant for many Black communities in the United States, particularly throughout the time of the Civil Rights Movement. It provided hope for many Black men and women experiencing trauma and harm, and it also represented an opportunity for more widespread education about Black history, negro life, Black resistance, Black education, and equal rights issues overall. However, it wasn’t until 1986 that the entire month of February was officially dedicated as Black History Month in the United States.

ASALH also designates an annual theme for Black History Month. Since 1996, presidents have issued proclamations from Washington, DC, celebrating National Black History Month. For example, in 1959, the theme was “Negro History: A Foundation for a Proud America,” in 1992, it was “African Roots Experience New Worlds, Pre-Columbus to Space Exploration,” and in 2005, it was “The Niagara Movement: Black Protest Reborn, 1905-2005.” The 1996 proclamation notably featured black women icons Sojourner Truth, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Toni Morrison, highlighting their stories and contributions to the world. Today, this month honors the foundational work that Black activists have done throughout history as well as the other rich contributions and too often neglected accomplishments Black individuals have made to all aspects of society. It’s also an opportunity to highlight ongoing injustices of historic and ongoing oppression and mobilize people to action. 

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Events for Black History Month 

There are many events showcasing Black History each February. Several museums participate in African American History Month every year, and you may be able to find exhibits and special assemblies putting the Afro American image and American negro history and culture at the forefront during Black History Month. Check with the following organizations for more information: 

  • The Library of Congress
  • National Archives and Records Administration 
  • The Smithsonian Institute 
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum 
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities
  • The National Gallery of Art 
  • The National Museum of African American History 

You can also check Eventbrite’s Black History Month section for local, state, and country-wide events, like exhibitions of visual and performing arts. Sometimes, you’ll find traveling exhibits that look at the contributions of African civilization to African Americans, like “Grass Roots: African Origins of American Art.” This traveling exhibit examines how African culture, African art, and the African background contribute to African American art in the South. 

There are also many historical documents available online that can teach a lot about African American memories and the African American legacy during this month, including:

Tips for caring for your mental health as a Black American 

Mental health is an important area to focus on during Black History Month for many. Over seven million Black or African American adults reported living with a mental illness in 2018, and Mental Health America states that Black individuals are more likely to experience feelings of hopelessness, to experience psychological distress due to poverty, and to die by suicide. 

In combination with the fact that quality, compassionate, cultural- and trauma-informed mental healthcare is often unavailable to Black communities, the topic of mental health awareness and resources becomes even more important during this month and year-round. The following are a few strategies to consider when it comes to caring for your mental health as a Black individual.

If you are experiencing thoughts or urges of suicide, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Help is available 24/7. 

Cultivate social support 

Social connection is a core component of the human experience, and research suggests that it plays a significant role in both mental and physical health. Cultivating and/or leaning on a healthy circle of friends and loved ones can allow you to reap these benefits and get support from people who understand your experience and care for you. If you have culturally significant practices or traditions in your Afro-American family, you might also consider partaking in them during Black History Month to honor your heritage and familial social connections. 

Practice self-love 

Self-love can be a healthy component of mental wellness. Certain practices like mindfulness have been statistically associated with increased levels of self-compassion and an increased ability to emotionally control. Other techniques to increase your own levels of self-love might include setting boundaries, setting aside time for rest, speaking positive affirmations, and seeking any physical and mental health care you may need.

Studies also show that past experiences with racism are associated with more significant levels of shame and lower self-esteem, which disproportionately affects black folks. Understanding this factor may help you make informed decisions on self-care specific to your identity, needs, and past experiences. 

Connect with the BIPOC community

One Pew Research study found that 57% of non-Hispanic Black adults in the United States say that “where they currently live is extremely or very important to how they think about themselves” in terms of identity. This finding suggests that having a supportive community of other people of color around you can be beneficial for social and even mental health. Some types of communities and groups that you might find it nourishing to join or take part in could include:

  • A friend/social group of other BIPOC
  • Family or chosen family networks
  • A historically Black university, college, sorority, or fraternity
  • Black history clubs
  • A support group for those impacted by racism 
  • A community center in your area
  • Local non-profits with African American leadership
  • A political movement like Black Lives Matter
  • A nonprofit dedicated to Black or BIPOC rights
  • A primarily Black or BIPOC neighborhood or city 
  • A group for those of African descent 

Available resources and support 

There are resources available on both local and federal levels for people of color who are looking for mental health support. Taking advantage of these resources may help you find treatment for mental health symptoms, life stressors, relationship conflicts, or identity-based struggles. The following are a few organizations and resources you can look to:

Celebrate Black Mental Health Pioneers 

This month can also be a time to remember those who paved the way for Black mental health throughout history. A few pioneers and Afro-American scholars in Black mental health that you might learn about and celebrate this February include: 

  • Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D.: the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in psychology
  • Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph.D.: the first Black woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University
  • Bebe Moore Campbell: author, teacher, and activist who founded Minority Mental Health Month
  • Beverly Greene, Ph.D.: a pioneer in intersectional psychology who has led studies on how racism can shape other aspects of an individual’s identity—for example, the intersection between sexuality and race and how it may impact mental healthcare. 

How allies can offer support 

Those who do not identify as part of the Black community but as allies of this community might observe Black History Month and learn more about the worthy historical background of this group through some of the following methods. 

Learn more about allyship 

Although some may be inclined to turn to Black friends to ask how they can support them, many Black communities ask that those intending to be allies educate themselves on anti-racism, privilege, and the realities of Black life and discrimination. If you want to offer support, you might try to shop at small black-owned businesses to support black economic empowerment. There are many allyship resources available today in the form of books, podcasts, social media content, and community groups. However, progressive whites and others who want to be allies might take caution to not let their allyship overshadow black voices.

Advocate for resources and legislation to improve African American life in America

Getting involved in activism is another way to practice allyship during Black History Month and year-round. This might include:

  • Voting in elections
  • Advocating for diversity policies 
  • Attending protests and marches
  • Speaking up when you see or hear racist comments or behaviors
  • Contacting government representatives to support helpful legislation for BIPOC communities
  • Donating and/or volunteering with nonprofits related to racial justice
  • Amplifying Black Voices on social media and elsewhere

Learn about mental health challenges faced by Black communities

Understanding how those in your community may be impacted by mental health conditions, suicide, substance use, and other topics—especially as a result of the lived experiences of being a person of color in the United States—may also help you be a better ally in February and beyond. You can educate yourself and help raise awareness for these challenges in an effort to promote better availability of mental health care for Black communities. Below are a few related statistics from Resources To Recover (RTOR) to provide context on the effects of mental health on Afro-American survival:

  • Black Americans are 20% more likely than other groups to experience a significant mental health diagnosis like major depressive disorder. 
  • African Americans have the highest lifetime rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 8.7%. 
  • While people with mental illness who are incarcerated tend to experience mistreatment and medical neglect, people of color in this situation are even less likely to receive proper care.
  • 80% of Black Americans feel that stigma around mental health discourages them from seeking support through a therapist. 
  • Those identifying with two or more races are more likely to experience a mental health condition than any other racial or ethnic group. 
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Celebrate Black History Month by caring for your mental health

Counseling options for African Americans

One part of caring for your mental health can include recognizing when it may benefit you to reach out for professional support. Studies have found that 60% of Black individuals seeking treatment are interested only in a meeting with a Black therapist. However, for those who may live in a predominantly white community or another area where they don't have access to resources like health insurance, finding adequate treatment can be challenging. In these cases, online therapy may represent a more available option. 

Through certain online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you can indicate your preference for a BIPOC therapist when you sign up. You can also note if you have any cultural or religious beliefs you’d like your therapist to tell or if you’d prefer to see an LGBTQ+ therapist. The option to ensure your identity is respected and understood in therapy may allow you to feel safe with your therapist so you can get the care you need, whether it’s via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging. Research suggests that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy in treating various mental illnesses and symptoms, including depression, anxiety, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder, making it a potential option to explore for many individuals.

Takeaway

Black History Month offers an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Black individuals and communities throughout history. It can also be a time to raise awareness for resources that can benefit the African American community, including mental health resources for the unique challenges they may face due to their lived experiences as people of color in the United States. 

If you’re experiencing mental health challenges of any kind, know that you’re not alone. There is help available through therapy, whether in person or online. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a therapist who has experience in your specific areas of concern, and you can always change therapists until you find a good match. Take the first step toward getting mental health support, and reach out to BetterHelp today.

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