How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing Black Mental Health in the Workplace

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In order to strengthen the workplace and address diversity and inclusion goals, workplaces must address Black mental health issues. Part of the Black History Month 2022 Series.

How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing Black Mental Health in the Workplace

The official Black History Month theme as created by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is Black Health and Wellness. From the website: “This theme acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing throughout the African Diaspora. The 2022 theme considers activities, rituals, and initiatives that Black communities have done to be well.”

Typically Black History Month themes focus on the past achievements and progress of Black people. But what if we focused our collective efforts on their current health and wellness – what type of progress and achievements would we see that impact us all?

From “According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, hopelessness, and feeling like everything is an effort. Black adults living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to report serious psychological distress than those with more financial security. Additionally, members of the Black community face structural challenges accessing the care and treatment they need. Only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it.”

I believe that in order to strengthen the workplace and do more than just hire Black people to address diversity and inclusion goals, workplaces must address Black mental health.

The Pressing Need

Since the summer of 2020, many employers have heard from their Black employees about the need for increased mental health resources. Angela Neal-Barnett in How Organizations Can Support the Mental Health of Black Employees, suggests that employers must consider new and specialized resources to address this issue. She says, “That’s why leaders must set aside the standard DEI or HR playbook in this unprecedented time. The go-to diversity corporate trainer who teaches stress management techniques will not suffice. Programming targeted towards all employees will be unsuccessful and result in charges that the senior management and the organization have little regard for the well-being of Black employees.

“Instead, start by acknowledging that racism impacts Black staff emotionally, mentally, and physically. Understand that when Black employees tell you “We are exhausted,” “We are tired,” or “We are in no mood to interact with white people,” what is really being said is, “We are in distress, we are traumatized, and we need a safe space within this organization to come together as Black people.”

Suggestions for the Workplace

Photo by Brit Worgan on Scopio

Provide Safe Spaces

Provide Black employees with that safe place and bring in a skilled expert in racial trauma to help them process what they are experiencing and feeling. Senior management may have mixed feelings about creating a separate space, as doing so is not inclusive. When faced with this argument, it is important to underscore that the issue is not inclusion, but racial trauma. The time will come when you can bring all employees together to talk about racism but now is not that time. How Organizations Can Support the Mental Health of Black Employees

Provide an Employee Assistance Program

Some employees will want more than a safe space. If they request counseling, make sure your employee assistance program (EAP) has culturally competent therapists available. Whether the EAP is in-house or an external vendor, the counselors need the training and skills to work with Black clients. They must have a working understanding of racism, be comfortable working with people of the same or a different race, and understand the effects of racial trauma. If the resources you have available don’t meet this criteria, don’t refer your employees to them, because you will only be furthering the trauma. Instead, find a culturally competent counseling group, and contract with them to see your employees. How Organizations Can Support the Mental Health of Black Employees

Photo by gatot adri on Scopio

Support People with Mental Disorders at Work

Organizations have a responsibility to support individuals with mental disorders in either continuing or returning to work. Research shows that unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, can have a detrimental impact on mental health. Many of the initiatives outlined above may help individuals with mental disorders. In particular, flexible hours, job redesign, addressing negative workplace dynamics, and supportive and confidential communication with management can help people with mental disorders continue to or return to work. Access to evidence-based treatments has been shown to be beneficial for depression and other mental disorders. Because of the stigma associated with mental disorders, employers need to ensure that individuals feel supported and able to ask for support in continuing with or returning to work and are provided with the necessary resources to do their job. Mental Health in the Workplace

Understand How Different Groups Experience Mental Health

Employers should consider the distinct mental health needs of different employee groups, according to new research. “Demographic groups experience and are impacted by mental health differently. We found significant differences across racial and ethnic groups, gender, age, sexual orientation, and parents compared to nonparents,” said Mind Share Partners, a San-Francisco-based nonprofit, in its Mental Health at Work: 2019 Report. Different Demographic Groups Experience Mental Health Challenges in Unique Ways

Address the Racial Wage Gap that Persists in the Workplace

After the racial justice uprisings from the summer of 2020, in support of Black Lives Matter, it is no longer enough to say we support Black people in our lives. We must take active steps to know and understand how we personally contribute to a better world. Personally, I believe the strongest impact we can make in advancing a racial justice agenda is to start in our workplace. And I mean EVERY workplace.

I believe celebrating Black History Month in the workplace starts with looking at where and how Black folks hold senior leadership in your organization. Or held by Black folks elsewhere in the organization? Do these numbers represent the statewide or national ratios among other racial or ethnic groups? Does your organization have diversity, equity, and inclusion group? Ask them to look into how Black folks’ salaries compared to other ethnic groups in your organization. Because even if there are an equitable number of people represented in the organization, that doesn’t mean that they are paid equitably. How to Make Black History Month Matter: Addressing the Racial Wage Gap


Photo by  KyannaSimone  on Scopio

From The list below contains a variety of mental health resources for the Black community, and for more information on culturally competent care, visit NAMI’s page about the Black community and mental health care.

National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide
NOPCAS serves as the only national organization of its kind addressing the issue of suicide prevention and intervention, specifically in communities of color.

Black Mental Health Alliance
Provides information and resources and a “Find a Therapist” locator to connect with a culturally competent mental health professional.

Sharing Hope
NAMI’s program to increase mental health awareness in Black communities. It’s an hour-long presentation people can put on that addresses topics like stigma, symptoms, etc.

BEAM (Black Emotional and Mental Health)
Aimed at removing the barriers that Black people experience getting access to or staying connected with emotional health care and healing through education, training, advocacy and the creative arts.

Black in Mental Health
Mental health resources and media highlighting black excellence in mental health fields throughout the world.

Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation
Provides support and brings awareness to mental health issues in the Black community.

Open Path Psychotherapy Collective
Open Path Psychotherapy Collective is a non-profit nationwide network of mental health professionals dedicated to providing middle and lower-income level individuals, couples, families, and children with access to affordable psychotherapy and mental health education services. (cost range from $30-$60 for individual sessions).

Black Women Resources

Therapy for Black Girls
Offers a listing of mental health professionals across the country who provide high quality, culturally competent services to Black women and girls, an informational podcast and an online support community.

Black Girls Breathing
Black Girls Breathing™ is a safe space for black womxn to actively manage their mental health through breathwork and community.

Sista Afya
Provides young adult Black women with mental wellness education, resource connection, and community support that empowers them to take charge of their mental wellbeing.

Black Women’s Health Imperative
The first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls.

The Loveland Foundation
The Loveland Foundation’s goal is to bring opportunity and healing to communities of color, and especially to Black women and girls, through fellowships, residency programs, listening tours, and more.

Black Trans Resources

The Okra Project
A collective that seeks to address the global crisis faced by Black Trans people by bringing home cooked, healthy, and culturally specific meals and resources to Black Trans People.

For the Gworls
A Black, Trans-led collective that curates parties to fundraise money to help Black transgender people pay for their rent, gender-affirming surgeries, smaller co-pays for medicines/doctor’s visits, and travel assistance. (Not hosting parties due to COVID-19, but still offering assistance)

Trans Women of Color Collective
Created to cultivate economic opportunities and affirming spaces for Trans people of color and their families, to foster kinship, build community, engage in healing and restorative justice through arts, culture, media, advocacy and activism.

Black Men and Boys Resources

Therapy for Black Men
A dedicated resource for Black men seeking and finding mental health support. They provide targeted resources and a database filled with professionals equipped to support men of color.

The Confess Project
A National Grassroots Movement committed to building a culture of mental health for boys, men of color, and their families.

Black Older Folks

African American Older Adults and Race-Related Stress
Resource from the APA that details what race-related stress is and how it affects African American older adults. Also, shares what health providers can do to help, and additional resources.

The Center for Healing Racial Trauma
The Center for Healing Racial Trauma offers services and trainings designed to heal racially/ethnically marginalized people from Racism.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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