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Defeating the Mental Health Stigma for the Black Community

The events of the past week are weighing heavily on my heart. As a white woman, I cannot possibly understand what the Black community is feeling. I feel like I don’t have the right words, but I do know I have a voice, and as the founder of Still I Run, I want to use it. Please bear with me, because I think this is important.

Here at Still I Run, we promote the benefits of running for mental health. And through community and awareness, we want to defeat the stigma surrounding mental health for everyone. Emphasis on the word ‘everyone’. I see now, that this isn’t such an easy task. It wasn’t an easy task to begin with but add in the prevailing racism and ambivalence towards the subject of race in our country: how does one even begin to affect change in the mental health space for the Black community?

Our friends in the Black community cannot just go out for a run without fear of having a target on their back just because of the color of their skin. I cannot possibly imagine being afraid to go for a run and I’ve never once feared for my white husband’s life when he goes for a run. Something that feels so freeing for me, as a white woman, can bring anxiety and fear to a Black person. So how can we promote running for mental health to everyone if it’s a source of anxiety for those in the Black community?

Mental Health in the Black Community

It begins with speaking out against racism. It begins with realizing that racial inequality permeates everything. Did you know that adults in the Black community are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than whites? Or that Black people are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness? As recent news and events have shown, and multiple studies back up, Black people of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime, which then makes them more likely to experience PTSD. Racism in general causes PTSD as well.

Racial inequality and a myriad of institutionalized racist constructs make it nearly impossible for the Black community to get access to adequate mental health care. Black people have the highest rate of poverty among all races and many people that live in poverty do not have the extra means or resources to secure regular mental health treatment. On top of that, when treatment is secured, only 2% of all psychologists in the country are Black. The best type of outcome for any mental health treatment is when a person can talk to a professional that is in-tune with their cultural background. How are Black people supposed to have a truly positive mental health outcome if they can’t find a clinician that understands them?

I Need to Speak Out

I know some of you may be thinking “stay in your lane” and/or “why bring race into this space.” But I can’t and I won’t stay in my “lane” and I must bring race into this space if we are truly a community for everyone. If you weren’t aware, Still I Run’s name comes from Maya Angelou’s poem, Still I rise. Maya, an acclaimed Black poet, storyteller, activist, and autobiographer, wrote Still I rise to share the struggle she and the Black community face to overcome prejudice and injustice. It’s also an anthem about the strength and resiliency the Black community continues to show despite the hundreds of years of systematic oppression and discrimination.

As someone that was inspired by Maya’s poem and used it as inspiration for Still I Run’s name, I cannot and will not remain silent. If I do, I am no better than those that purposefully oppress the Black community. If we as the Still I Run community, are truly intent on defeating the mental health stigma, it needs to be for everyone. To even begin to make that happen, we need to use our voices to speak up.

We need to be anti-racist.

So this is me, speaking up.

This is me, saying Black Lives Matter.


By Sasha Wolff

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