Dr. Imani Walker is concerned about mental health in the Black community. The psychiatrist, who starred on Married to Medicine: Los Angeles, tells Yahoo Life that the mental health crisis in the Black community was dire before the COVID-19 pandemic — and the past year has only made existing issues worse.
"We're dealing with higher rates of mental illness in general, compared to whites. We are five times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness in this country," she explains, noting that anxiety is the most common mental health issue in the United States followed by depression. "We've actually been really good at disguising our pain for hundreds of years. We're programmed to disguise our pain because of slavery."
According to a 2017 study by the American Psychiatric Association, only one in three Black Americans actually receives the mental health that they need, which Walker attributes to several factors, including lack of resources.
"We're dealing with mental health deserts," she adds. "So that's one of the things that actually has been kind of positive to come out of COVID is that it's exposed the fact that we as a whole, we do need access to more mental health services, and now we can get them because we have a technology that enables us to do so." Dr. Walker points to telemedicine, which she's personally employed in her practice as a way of reaching her patients where they are.
Another factor that has contributed to the issues that Black Americans face in mental health is stigma. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 63 percent of Black people see mental illness as a personal weakness, which can cause shame leading people to suffer in silence. Dr. Walker believes that changing the conversation can be hugely powerful. "We're going to have to have more conversations, more community outreach, more people engaged on a very personal level," she says, noting that when Black folks see and hear it coming from another Black person, the message is more likely to resonate. "We have a history, unfortunately of being experimented and toyed with when it comes to medicine. And I think it's going to be very helpful and instrumental that we hear more from people who look like us, who we can relate to, who can say, 'Hey, you know what? This is, this is how I felt before.'"
That's part of the reason why Dr. Imani shares her own story. "I have definitely sought out the help that I've needed for my mental health issues, I have a history of anxiety and depression," she admits. It's also why she joined the Married to Medicine cast. "I was able to use the time that I did have in that particular spotlight to make sure that I did get the message out that like, 'Hey, I'm a Black psychiatrist. This is what we look like. This is what we sound like. We do care about.'" She continues, "I think that having a platform is definitely something that I didn't take for granted. ... It was always for me about making sure that people who looked like me were able to use the tools that I've learned to be able to better themselves."
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