The Intersectional Struggle of Being Black, Queer, and Having a Mental Illness

· Updated on October 30, 2018

Mental health is something us Black people, in general, don’t associate with or want to talk about, even though mental illness is prevalent within our community. Being Black and queer with mental health issues can be a particularly difficult struggle because of this ongoing stigma, and the only remedy or help that is offered usually comes in the form of prayer.

Having Borderline Personality Disorder impacts the way I think and feel about myself and others. In order to be diagnosed by a professional, you need to have five of the nine “common” symptoms, which include emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive behavior, and intense but unstable relationships with others.

Discussions about mental health have improved due to our having more access to information and resources related to depression and anxiety, and tools such as social media have also helped in educating people, allowing users to share their personal stories and experiences.  But finding professional help, as Black queer men, is still a struggle, as we are likely to face discrimination or misunderstanding when trying to access public health care.

Asanda Madosi, a 29-year-old black queer Masters graduate based in Johannesburg, says he had trouble finding a psychologist who grasped his specific needs.

“It was not even about them not being queer but that we failed to connect and I found that some lacked the depth that would be needed to help, judging from the questions he was asking me,” Madosi tells INTO

Just like many other Queer POC, Madosi found that the psychologists he was referred to did not understand him.  They were not Black or queer, and were unable to relate to him. In 2013, the American Psychological Association found that over 83 percent of working psychologists were white.  And as Vice reported last year, African Americans face more mental illness than white people, but seek mental health treatment at half the rate of whites, and LGBTQs face mental illness at three times the rate of hetero and cis individuals

There’s also the case of some “professionals” feeling the need to comment on how you live your life as a queer person, imposing religious beliefs on you. It can be even worse in the Black community because of the sense of community we have, so some professionals forget they’re at work and will come to you as a “parent.”

This struggle is not unique to me and Madosi — many Black queer folks struggle to access mental health care services due to the bias of some professionals. Niza, 23, says he struggled in finding someone who could help him with his “daddy issues.” He tells INTO that he was placed with therapists who simply could not understand where he was coming from. Tshep, a 24-year-old PR practitioner from Johannesburg, tells me that he faced similar problems — he was unable to find a mental health professional who could empathize with him and says the challenge is that most therapists he approached were white women who lacked an understanding of his upbringing and background. 

We also deal with homophobia in the Black community, because the Black community frequently separates being Black and being queer. Statistics also prove to us that Black queers are disowned, abused, abandoned, ostracized and attacked in their communities, even by their family members.

Another struggle is that the public health care centers are overly crowded. Accessing private health care is not an option, as it very expensive and not everyone has that privilege. Therapy is very expensive and it’s even more difficult to access when you do not have the support of your family. 

I don’t blame anyone who self-diagnoses, finding solutions in chatrooms or forums. Sensitivity training about LGBTQ folks is needed in the health care system so that people can address their biases and provide proper support, because LGBTQ youths are suffering. When we can tackle the issues of stigma, both within marginalized communities and more broadly, we can start to provide people with the mental health care they deserve.

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