By Leah Harris

Forthcoming Book Calls for Unapologetically Cultivating Black Mental Health 

February is Black History Month, and Dr. Rheeda Walker, psychologist and author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health: Navigate an Unequal System, Learn Tools for Emotional Wellness, and Get the Help you Deserve (due out May 2020) argues that a strong sense of Black identity and heritage helps to cultivate positive Black mental and emotional health.

As we consider the legacy of Black history this month, this book offers an important opportunity to reflect on how historical and current stressors can have a cumulative effect on mental health and well-being, and impact how and whether individuals seek help when experiencing mental health challenges. In a recent interview with Dr. Walker said:


“It’s always fascinating that I think we lose sight of what the history of African people looks like in the U.S., whereby we spent much more time enslaved and in bondage and dealing with Jim Crow separation, than we did being free. And the other side of that coin, is what culture is. I think we oftentimes think of culture as what people wear, and what they eat and that kind of thing. But our culture is what gets passed on to us from generation to generation. And so, if historically there was a culture of ‘You do what you’re told to do and whether you’re sick or not, you push through, and you work hard or you die,’ then you learn to push through no matter what so that you can survive.’”

Both clinical and lived experience experts have long argued that responses to Black emotional distress must be grounded in Black history and culture to be effective and engaging. Dr. Lawford L. Goddard, from the Bay Area Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), wrote an opinion piece last year calling for more culturally relevant services and supports for the African American community, in Alameda County and beyond. 

Dr. Goddard pointed out how prevailing policy and funding standards that privilege evidence-based practices may ignore the community-defined practices that minority communities want and need: 

“Service delivery for the African American community must move beyond an emphasis on evidence-based practices that have not been effective with African Americans and utilize those community-defined practices that African Americans have developed, used and determined to yield positive results. While these community-based practices may or may not have been measured empirically, they have reached a level of acceptance by the community as determined by community consensus over time.”

Dr. Goddard goes on to call for systemic change based on concepts and approaches that have been developed by and for African American communities:

“Ultimately, the solution requires systemic changes that are based on the utilization of African American cultural precepts in the provision of services.  Service delivery practices must move beyond the individualistic perspective that is central to Western psychology and focus on the family and community as the units of service delivery. Services have to be provided in a culturally congruent (responsive) manner to the African American community.  In doing so, service providers can begin to effectively address the health and well-being of the African American community and reduce some of the disparities.”

Sources

Goddard, Lawford, PhD. “The State of Black Mental Health in Alameda County: A Call for Action” (Post Group News)

About Health. Mental Health and Well-Being in the African American Community: an Interview with Dr. Rheeda Walker (KPFA 94.1)

Walker, Rheeda, PhD. The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health