Barriers to Treatment for Black Men

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 18.6% of Black Americans report living with a mental health condition but only 16.9% report using mental health treatment.

These numbers are significantly lower than White Americans [1]. Black men may avoid seeking treatment due to stigma, mistrust of providers, or lack of culturally-informed care [1, 2]. Although this topic has been discussed for years, data is lacking on the effectiveness of psychotherapy with Black men [3].

Black men often experience significant psychological stress as a result of discrimination, social and economic challenges, and racial injustice [3, 4].

Given the importance of mental health it is paramount that we identify ways to improve treatment seeking. There is substantial evidence on mistreatment and misdiagnosis among Black Americans [1, 3]. This often leads to a lack of desire to seek treatment among men and women. Studies also show that Black men are socialized or grow up in homes where masculinity is emphasized, and men are not encouraged to talk about their feelings or emotions [2, 4]. Another possible factor that decreases mental health use among Black men is the lack of Black mental health providers.

Although there is a growing diverse population, the psychology workforce is lacking Black males in the pipeline [5]. If the field is able to increase the number of Black men and women who enter the profession, this may potentially address one barrier towards treatment.

Research also highlights the need for cultural competence and culturally informed care [1, 3, 4]. If we have more providers of color, therapists may better understand the dynamics faced by Black men living in the social and political system of America. Some scholars at the University of Michigan have conducted some emerging research using Facebook to understand Black men’s attitudes towards mental health and deliver an intervention through social media [4]. The intervention appeared effective and produced lower depression ratings at the conclusion of the study.

According to Dr. Watkins and her co-authors, the intervention appeared to be a welcoming and nonjudgmental space for Black men [4]. It allowed an opportunity to safely disclose information and have access to culturally sensitive mental health resources. As we move forward to addressing the mental health of Black men, we need to strongly consider incorporating the voices of Black men in research on mental health. As a result, Black men may feel that their plight is better understood which his vital to improve treatment seeking.


1. (Turner et al., 2016) Factors impacting the current trends in the use of outpatient psychiatric treatment among diverse ethnic groups. Current Psychiatry Reviews, 12, 2, 199-220.

2. (Watkins & Neighbors, 2007) An initial exploration of what ‘mental health’ means to young black men. Journal of Men’s Health and Gender, 4(3), 271-282.

3. (Thorn & Sarata, 1998) Psychotherapy with African American men: What we know and what we need to know. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 26(4), 240-253.

4. (Watkins et al., 2016) Strengths and Weaknesses of the Young Black Men, Masculinities, and Mental Health (YBMen) Facebook Project. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

5. (Turner, E.A. & Turner, T., 2015) Diversity in the psychology workforce: Challenges and opportunities to increase the presence of African American males in psychology graduate programs. The Register Report, 41, 26-30.


Author information:
Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychology, University of Houston-Downtown
CEO, Turner Psychological & Consulting Services, LLC

Healthy Black Men