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Black Identity and Mental Health: How Oppression Shapes Consciousness

Oppression is defined as physical violence and psychological brutality against marginalized communities, such as black or African American people. People face oppression as a result of discrimination when they either disobey those in power.

Mainstream health systems have excluded a very important discussion on how social oppression is relevant to mental health. When developing mental health services, specifically for black individuals, it is important to take into account how oppression and related violence might affect personality.

How is Oppression Internalized?

Internalizing something means believing others’ opinions about you. For example, if you are repeatedly told that you are not good enough for a job, you might internalize this opinion as a belief system, which would hold you back in negative ways.

People of color might start believing the stigma, misinformation, and stereotypes that have been created by those in power to facilitate systemic racism.

One holds themselves back and sabotages their success in self-defeating ways. This not only reinforces stigma but also results in further discrimination and oppression.

We Base Our Worth on Others’ Judgments

Our identity goes through several changes as we connect with the social world. We learn the ideas of self-worth and self-esteem by basing these on the approval of others. The covert overt messages from family, society, or media can validate or dismiss our self-worth.

For example, if society keeps telling you that black features are ugly, you might develop low self-esteem and feel ashamed of your race or color.

This is how Internalized oppression operates. It destroys one’s mental peace by filling us with shame and guilt taught by others. When it is practiced in a community, people criticize and undermine each other in potentially destructive ways, reflecting mental health outcomes that are similar to violence, trauma, and abuse.

Self-esteem And External Validation

If you have been historically taught that black features or hair are less attractive, you see black people mostly as criminals or drug abusers in movies and perceive them as a threat to society, you will feel a sense of impending doom, and a deep sense of shame, embarrassment, and guilt.

Mental Health And Black Communities

The relationship between mental health and oppression has been sidelined when it comes to black individuals due to historical oppression and present-day racism. Let’s see how oppression and mental health are connected. 


Race-based exclusions are old and deep-rooted in the social fabric, and they inform the psyche of a common black individual. They still experience negative attitudes and rejection that hold them back from achieving their full potential, resulting in mental health illnesses.  

Class difference

Black communities have suffered systemic exclusion from economic resources, including education and health. When access to basic necessities is denied, it results in class difference which has strong links to mental health, as incarcerated individuals are at a higher risk of mental health problems.

Stigma and Help-seeking

Black and African American people internalize beliefs related to stigma and stereotypes, this affects their openness to seeking help and their coping behaviors. Stigma and judgment stop them from acknowledging mental health issues too.

Over-Representation in Jails

Black and African people are a minority, representing 17% of the American population, yet they make up 40% of the US prison population. This reinforces the stigma against black people and fuels racism, resulting in distrust in the system and aggravated mental health issues.

Absence of Black Therapists and Counselors

Black members make up less than 2% of the American Psychological Association. Since the mental health scene is mostly dominated by Caucasians, it is feared that practitioners are not culturally equipped to treat specific mental health issues faced by black individuals.

Caucasian councilors are more likely to see mental illness as an individualized phenomenon, without much reference to social structures. The common consensus is that mental illness solely stems from a person’s pathology.

Unfortunately, it is not common to take into account the ideas of social conditioning and racism when we talk about mental health. Black individuals are viewed as inherently ‘sick’ or deranged. This hinders an examination of the impacts of oppression on black people.

We Want you to know…

The role of oppression in the treatment of mental illness reinforces the idea that humans are inherently inferior or unstable. This model of treatment must be changed, as it supports inequality and social justice.

Oppression is an aggravated form of descrimination, and must be acknowledged as an important factor in determining individual thought processes, especially when it comes to black individuals. Current mental health systems must be changed to fight for social liberation and equality.

At The Hardy Clinic, we have a team of black female therapists who are trained and certified to understand how black identity is shaped by oppression. We are committed to the well-being of black individuals and understand the nexus or oppression, power, and mental health. We are culturally competent to treat specific issues faced by black people.