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🧠 Black people, mental health & personal development
I’m Brian and each week I publish content on personal growth. Sometimes it will be things I’ve learned in my own growth experience, but most times I’ll be answering readers’ questions about personal growth. Send me your questions, and in turn, I’ll do some research & interviews and humbly offer the best advice I find.
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Q: Someone mentioned last week that mindfulness is not a topic that’s generally of interest to BIPOC. Given some of your writing and coaching, wondering if you feel there is any validity to that argument?
I debated whether I wanted to write about this subject because while many of my subscribers are people of color, many are not. I thought it was an important topic though and decided to shed some light on it to the best of my ability.
There is a stigma that is Black people don’t invest in their mental health or that mental health and personal development is something that White people invest in. People are starting to observe that Black people and people of color are missing the boat on some of the personal growth opportunities out there.
In my experience, I’ve heard this question/observation in various forms from three primary sources:
👀 Participants in personal development workshops wondering why there aren’t other Black people in there with them.
💰 Investors who have been curious whether a mental health app focused on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) would work.
🤷♂️ Founders of mental health startups wondering why most of their user base does not identify as Black or as a person of color.
Of course, Black people will benefit from personal development, therapy, and mental health resources just as much as anyone else, if not more. Adult Black and African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than adult Whites.
Once they get involved in the personal development or mental health space, they are just as loyal as any other client and are often some of the biggest referrers of net new customers.
So, why does it seem like Black people, overall, aren’t into it and what can we do about it?
What is the stigma around Black mental health?
There are a few things there that impact the stigmas around black mental health. Here are four of them that, based on conversations I’ve had with other people of color, seem to be major drivers.
1. Black people have a different relationship with the healthcare system
Black people in America do not have a historically positive relationship with the healthcare system, overall. There are examples of medical practitioners experimenting on Black Americans from Colonial times onward (if you’d like to learn more about this, consider the book Medical Apartheid).
Doctors in the US are also less likely to believe the symptoms or medical issues you note if you are a Black person. This even impacts celebrities, like Serena Williams, and affects both the quality of care and the timely nature of the care that you receive as a Black person.
This has some interesting statistical outcomes, including:
Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy complications.
There are many fewer Black people addicted to opioids. They never became addicted because doctors were less likely to subscribe medication to Black people in the first place.
The psychological impact of this kind of racial treatment by the healthcare system is rather obvious. If you don’t trust your doctor, you’re less likely to go. This lack of trust appears to spill over into mental health as well.
2. There aren’t as many Black professionals involved in the industry
Another major factor is that there are fewer Black practitioners of mental health services. While 13.4% of the US population is Black, less than 2% of American Psychological Association members are Black or African American.
If you are BIPOC and you’re bought into the value of mental health, this statistic will make it that much harder for you to find a therapist, psychologist, or coach that looks like you. Having a therapist that is your ethnicity and gender matters for many people because there is a belief that they are more likely to understand your life experiences.
3. Black people have a bad cultural habit of dismissing mental health struggles
In general, Black people don’t make it easy on each other to talk about mental health or the mental health support that we need. Black people are historically resilient as a race. Everything from slavery to Jim Crow and now mass incarceration has developed a tough people, mentally. This has supported a sort of “toughen up” attitude to mental health within the community.
Also, when mental health is an issue, there can be a “you need Jesus” dismissal where religion is presented as a solution to many problems. This makes sense because religion did fill the mental support gap that the healthcare system failed to provide for Black people decades ago. But there are plenty of things you don’t go to church for, like getting your car fixed. For some things, including mental health, a professional would be ideal.
4. Media & social media make the stigma worse
If you haven’t watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix, I highly recommend you give it a watch.
How it applies here though is that if the above three observations are true, then BIPOC are less likely to see mental health information and advertisements in their social media feeds. The feed will further reinforce beliefs that BIPOC already have around mental health since humans are more likely to read content that they already agree with.
If you’re BIPOC, have you seen many mental health ads? I work in this space and I have not.
How have the personal development and mental health industries failed here?
Even with everything that I noted above, any BIPOC can self-select to invest in their own personal growth and development. But overall, these industries have done a shit job of marketing to people of color or making those opportunities accessible to people of color.
Prices have priced out many BIPOC
Most of these personal development workshops are not cheap. Entry costs can range from a couple of thousand to over $10,000, and that doesn’t include travel costs (flight & hotel) or costs on the ground (i.e. what you’re going to eat). This priced out many lower-income individuals, and with the racial income gap, it’s easy to see how many of those left out are BIPOC.
Trainers & facilitators don’t look like most Black people
If you look at a list of the most prominent people in the personal development or mental health space, you’ll notice that most of them are White. This is what reinforces the stigma that this is something that White people do or need.
Most of these workshops center around “success.” As a Black person, I don’t need a 6’3” White male to preach at me for 5-days about how to become successful in America. Of course, he can become successful. The success journey of people of color is very different, and who the trainer “is” from a gender and ethnicity standpoint carries a lot of weight.
The audience doesn’t foster inclusion
This is likely a result of the two factors above, but the audience at many of these events lack diversity. I’m not saying people in the audience don’t want diversity. But when you filter down to who can take 3-5 days off work to fly to another city and invest thousands of dollars in a seminar, you can start to guess what that audience looks like.
As an example, I love listening to Ed Mylett. I love his passion, drive, and empathy. But this is a group picture of a workshop he hosted.
Based on that picture, I’ll likely never attend that event, even though I love his content. It just doesn’t look like it’s designed for people like me.
Is the stigma shifting?
For a long time, there was a stigma around mental health in general, but there has been an overall industry effort to normalize it.
🏊♂️ Prominent individuals, like Michael Phelps, began speaking out about their struggles with mental health and the tools that supported them.
🍿 Movie and TV roles, like Wendy Rhoades from Billions, made mental health seem like something that the elite invest in to gain an edge over the competition, which drives more adoption.
Overall access has drastically shifted as well. Mental Health startups have received hundreds of millions in funding and have created ease around finding mental health support. In addition to that, now that in-person events are not an option, many facilitators are taking their workshops online at a fraction of the cost. A workshop that once cost $2,000 might go for as little as $350 as a virtual-only training.
But overall, Black adoption has lagged White adoption, which is showing up in some of the startup data.
These companies are going to market to the person most likely to purchase their service. They’ll market to people who look like their current customers, not because they are racist, but because marketing to people who look like your current customers is one of the most efficient ways to close a sale. A marketer would therefore have to consciously target specific racial groups to reach them.
Because of odd drivers like this, Black adoption ends up lagging.
What can be done to shift the stigma & adoption curves?
I think this is such a fixable problem. From my humble perspective, it feels easier to address than police brutality or the unfair justice system because private companies and social media (i.e. all of us) can drive much of the change here.
Here are some three things that can help.
1. Let’s have more people of color open up about the struggles with mental health
Michael Phelps is awesome, but how many Black people can you think of that are really into Olympic Swimming? There need to be more people of color opening up about their mental health struggles and how they sought out support from them.
Lebron James on a Calm ad helps for sure, as does Kanye West admitting that he is bipolar. But we also need to hear examples of people that we know and love, personally. That’s what truly normalizes behavior; when people we know and love start admitting to their challenges.
2. More professional practitioners of color
I’m not convinced that there needs to be a Black, Latinx, or Asian version of the mainstream mental health applications, though it can certainly gain some traction. I do believe though that we need more practitioners from those groups in order to normalize consumption, regardless of whether you’re planning on building a new app or not.
Having a coach, mentor, or therapist that looks like you can make a big difference. An Atlas participant once told me they would have walked out of the training if not for seeing me and one more Black coach. Seeing us communicated to them that the training was designed for Black people too.
3. Less tearing down of POC when they struggle
Do you remember when Michael Jordan was speculated to have a massive gambling problem? How about when Tiger Woods’ sexual addiction came to light? More recently, Kanye West has had some major public breakdowns. You might remember these because the media jumped on all of those opportunities for clicks, views, and ad sales all at the expense of those people.
These were awesome opportunities to provide a narrative around mental health and ways to provide support for people. We need more narratives of people who did struggle, who sought out support, and who improved over time. Often, if that narrative comes to light, it’s after the person has been torn down publicly in the name of website traffic.
I think that media and people personally can change narratives from “Kanye is crazy” to “let’s get Kanye some support” and this would go a long way in encouraging others to seek out support.
💪 What you can do, specifically?
Open up about it. Do you use a therapist, psychologist, or coach? Do those close to you know that you do? Are they aware of how supportive it’s been for you? Your story might inspire even one person to seek out support.
Help normalize it. Talk about mental health when it comes up. Let’s not dismiss it or call people crazy, especially people of color. What if we normalized discussing mental health like we do our physical health?
Encourage new practitioners. Do you know a person of color who would be a phenomenal coach, therapist, psychologist, etc? Have you encouraged them to pursue it? I wouldn’t be writing these newsletters or producing video content if multiple people didn’t start encouraging me to do it. Encouragement goes a long way.
🌟 Other things you might find interesting this week:
The Annual 10Q questionnaire opens up this week. Once a year, this app will ask you 10 reflective questions that you can then compare year-over-year. This is an awesome example of something you can share with others to increase their awareness.
This NYT quiz on climate choices. It will ask you some challenging questions that help frame some of the climate decisions we each face on a daily basis, but likely don’t realize.
That’s it for this week! Hit me up if you have any thoughts, feedback, or insights to share.
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