Stigma-Busting Within the African American Community

JUL. 27, 2016

By Elise Banks, M.S., LPC


As Miss International 2015 and a national ambassador for NAMI, I have spent the last year with a specific focus on breaking the stigma associated with mental health. I do this work not only because I am a psychotherapist, but also because certain individuals resist seeking help due to the labels that are associated with symptoms of mental health conditions.

African Americans are one of the populations that are least likely to seek treatment for mental or emotional issues. And because I am African American, I feel it is important to help break some of the common beliefs that perpetuate stigma and incorrect thinking that go into why some may be reluctant to seek assistance:

“It Stays in The Family”

In the black community, we are often told that what happens at home, stays at home. This rule is important if you want to maintain a boundary around a family’s personal business, however it’s important to know when professional help is needed. Just like how you take your car to get serviced when its issues are beyond your scope of knowledge, mental health professionals are trained to help individuals and families with mental health issues that are beyond a family’s expertise.

What is truly wonderful about therapy is that the sessions are completely confidential. So whether you go to a private practice or a clinic, you don’t have to worry about anyone finding out your reasoning for seeking the aid of a professional.

“I Don’t Trust People I Don’t Know”

It is common for people to only share their problems with people they know, respect and trust. So why on earth would you pay a stranger to listen to your deepest thoughts and feelings? Although I understand this type of thinking, here is another way to look at it: When we go to a family member or friend, sometimes their advice can be “sugar-coated” so as not to hurt our feelings. They might also be too involved with the situation to give you sound advice. When you have an unbiased third party to vent to, you can focus on getting the help you need versus wondering if there are any ulterior motives.

There’s no rule that says you have to stick with the first therapist you meet. When I work with a patient or client, I tell them that I want them to be 100% comfortable with me. If they aren’t, I make a referral. That way, the individual has complete control over who they invite into their life to help them navigate through their journey.

“How Do I Even Know If I Need Help?” 

This is not just an issue with African Americans. A lot of people do not know when they need to ask for help. Take time to listen to your body as it will give you physical symptoms for what is happening internally. Some symptoms to look for are: changes in sleeping habits, increase or decrease of food intake, agitation, fast heart rate, thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, delusional thinking or hallucinations. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, do not be afraid to get the help you need.

With hate crimes, racism, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, African Americans should feel comfortable seeking mental health treatment—now more than ever. My hope is that the black community—and anyone resistant to the idea of mental and emotional treatment—will recognize the value of seeking help and soften their hearts to reaching out to an extremely valuable resource.


Check out Elise's full interview with NAMI here:


Elise Banks is the reigning Miss International. She currently travels with her platform Healthy Mind – Successful Life, where she works to break the stigma associated with mental health. When she is not traveling, Elise works as a clinical therapist in a private practice and a private school in Houston. Elise completed her undergraduate degree from Baylor University and finished her Master’s Degree with honors from the University of Houston. Elise feels that her clinical experience has given her the knowledge to be a voice for those who struggle every day for those suffering with a mental illness. In November 2015, Elise was honored to be asked to be a national ambassador for the National Alliance of Mental Illness. She most recently spoke at the 2016 National Convention.


AUG, 11, 2016 02:52:40 PM
Philomena Akoh
Bravo Ms. Banks for taking on such a huge and very much needed public and community service. I will like to come alongside you in this endeavor.

JUL, 31, 2016 06:47:25 PM
Joseph Maxwell
Dear Elise,
Thanks for sharing your outer beauty but more importantly your inner beauty with those of us either in or from the African-American community. It is so extremely vital that people of these communities be educated on the dangers of either being misdiagnosed, or not being diagnosed of mental illness. One of the biggest obstacles and challenges faced in our communities is lack of knowledge, pride, and stigma. These run so prevalently in the black community as well as others.
I speak of this from firsthand experience as I observed my mother and father's pride block them from getting my brother help he so desperately needed. Yielding to their pride over the needs of their son, he is the one who at age 46 must continue suffer the consequences of a decision they chose to make, all out of ignorance and pride. So seeing you and reading your story and observing your accomplishments, should be a huge inspiration to the black communities nationwide! Change must come about in all communities no matter the race, color, or creed. Know that out there, you are making a difference and will produce change. You are on my list of heroes! Thank you so much for being you and caring.

From one friend to another,
God bless

JUL, 28, 2016 08:46:14 AM
Pat Mitchell
Thank you to NAMI and the sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated for bringing this issue to the forefront in ALL communities. African American women are especially at risk for mental illness and in many instances, suffer in silence because of the stigma attached to mental illness, our depiction as pillars of strength and/or the discrimination that we face by medical professionals. Minority Mental Health Month is a blessing and I will support this platform for myself and for other families dealing with this important issue everyday. Thank you

JUL, 28, 2016 07:03:22 AM
Sandra Jones
I could not agree more with what Elise has said about mental health issues in the black community. I think we have gotten so used to things being a certain way that we don't recognize when something is very, very wrong and that it is not the way it should be and we ignore it, or laugh it off and not take it serious. Criticism and comparison of black people in America to other people has taken a toll. If any group of people need to "air" their concerns it need to be us. Freedom is more than physical it is also mental and emotional.

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