The Role Of Trauma And Inequality In Black Mental Health Challenges

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Mental health challenges can affect anyone regardless of race, ethnicity, background, or any other aspect of identity. However, mental illness, trauma, and inequality can intersect in different ways for members of the Black community. Complex factors like systemic racism, reduced access to mental health services, and stigma can create barriers to mental health care among Black Americans, creating challenges in health and well-being.  

To understand how mental health and race intersect, it can be helpful to examine the types of mental health challenges that may be prevalent in communities of color, the role systemic racism and trauma may play in mental illness, and resources for addressing mental health challenges. 

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Has racial trauma impacted your mental health?

Mental health challenges in the Black community

Black individuals often experience a unique set of mental health-related challenges and inequalities. For instance, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the US are more likely to report persistent feelings of sadness and believing that “everything is an effort” than white adults. In addition, a 2021 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that while suicide rates decreased in the US by 3% in 2020, they increased among many men of color, including Black men, in that same period.

However, despite the needs, statistics show that Black Americans receive mental health services at lower rates than white Americans. According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, among adults, only 39% of Black Americans with a mental illness received mental health services, compared to 52% of non-Hispanic whites. 

Black mental health considerations: The role of trauma and inequality

Because mental health challenges are more common in Black Americans, some individuals may wonder whether there’s an explanation for the unique challenges and disparities Black Americans may face when it comes to mental health and mental healthcare. This question can be complicated, with various potential contributing factors. Two of these possible factors are racial trauma and inequality. 

Racial Trauma 

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), racial trauma can result from “major experiences of racism like workplace discrimination or hate crimes” and the “accumulation of occurrences, such as everyday discrimination and microaggressions.” These traumatic experiences may lead to mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is characterized by symptoms such as hypervigilance, trouble sleeping, flashbacks, or nightmares.

A recent study notes that nearly 65% of young African Americans report having had traumatic experiences—more than twice the rate reported by youth from other races.  This study illustrates the role that race-related trauma may play in the mental health of Black and African Americans.


Inequality is another crucial factor to consider in the discussion of mental health challenges in the Black community. As noted by the CDC, a significant body of research has demonstrated that centuries of racism have created inequities in a range of areas, including housing, education, employment, and wealth. These conditions are then “key drivers of health inequities within communities of color”—with individuals of color at greater risk of poor health outcomes. 

Black Americans face unique challenges and barriers to care, including provider bias, low Black representation among mental health providers, higher uninsured rates, socioeconomic disparities, social stigma against mental illness, and increased difficulty in receiving necessary tests or treatment. 

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Seeking mental health support

Given these factors, accessing proper mental healthcare and support can present a unique set of challenges for those in the Black community. However, a range of strategies may be helpful for those in need of care, including but not limited to the following. 

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness

Understanding how mental illness can manifest may be a beneficial first step to seeking help. Although symptoms may vary based on the condition and circumstances, it may be helpful to be aware of signs like changes in mood, sleep patterns, appetite, lessened interest in hobbies and activities, or feelings of hopelessness, irritability, or worthlessness. 

Talking to culturally competent clinicians

Certain mental health care providers have training in navigating cultural differences, as well as an understanding of the ways racism may affect mental health. A variety of provider directories exist that may be useful for finding mental health professionals who are equipped to address culturally specific mental health concerns. 

Using community resources

Community organizations, such as support groups and mental health workshops, may also be helpful for those in need of care. These resources may accept payment on a sliding scale based on income to make care accessible for those in a wide range of situations. 

Has racial trauma impacted your mental health?

Alternative support options

Therapy—particularly culturally sensitive therapy—can be a valuable resource for those experiencing mental health challenges that may be connected to race or cultural identity. However, for those without insurance or whose insurance doesn’t cover it, traditional therapy may not always be accessible, given the often high costs of sessions and the need to travel for appointments. 

Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may provide a convenient alternative to face-to-face treatment, with affordable pricing options and the ability to be matched with a licensed therapist remotely based on one’s background, needs, preferences, and location. 

Online therapy has been researched as an effective and cost-effective alternative to face-to-face therapy. A 2017 study found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (ICBT) was effective in the treatment and management of various psychiatric disorders, including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and panic disorder, among others.  


Although mental health conditions can affect all communities, unique factors can impact mental health challenges for Black individuals. These factors can include racial trauma, inequality, a lack of representation among care providers, and social stigma, among others. 

However, several strategies may be helpful for those in need of care, such as recognizing the signs of mental illness, leveraging community resources, and seeking care from culturally competent providers. Therapy—either in-person or online—may also offer a valuable source of support.

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