Triangle mental health experts explore mental health stigma in Black, Latino communities

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- The stigma around mental illness in the Black and Hispanic communities often keep them from seeking treatment. Experts say it starts early.

"As children, we are often taught that if you have a mental illness, you are viewed as "crazy," weak or something we shouldn't talk about," said Dr. Erikka Dzirasa, Durham-based Catalyst Therapeutic Services.

She often sees parents who aren't sure how to address mental health with their kids as chronic signs like depression and anxiety develop. She admits there are many coping mechanisms including prayer, which sometimes just isn't enough.

"Just like we'd encourage you to go to a doctor if you broke a bone, we wouldn't say, well, maybe you should have faith and you shouldn't see a surgeon to reset it. No, we're going to say see a surgeon and take care of your body," Dzirasa said.

Data from the National Alliance of Mental Illness shows 1.4 million adults in North Carolina have a mental health condition.

Numbers show African Americans and Hispanics used mental health services at about half the rate of white people in the past year. That means one of our three Black people receive treatment they need.

That number totals 34 percent for Hispanics. Many barriers keep communities of color from accessing quality care, yet more Black people and Hispanics are accessing mental health services now more than ever because of increased education.

"They often times do not disproportionately don't have health insurance or mental health facilities in their neighborhood or near them," said Dr. Nerissa Price, WakeMed psychiatrist. "It's seeing people that they recognize and respect in their community coming out and being open about mental illness."

If you don't have insurance, there are free local programs you can take advantage of. Dr. Price says your condition will only get worse if you don't leaving you to suffer in silence.

"Silence can kill people. There's a lot of loss that can happen if people don't face mental health head on," said Price.

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