The rebellious streak many children are born with has stayed with one increasingly influential demographic through young adulthood, as Black millennials have embraced the topic of mental health in ways their parents would never have imagined.
While the African-American community has traditionally avoided seeking mental health therapy, “there’s been a tremendous shift, starting about seven years ago,” Asha Tarry, a social worker and psychotherapist, told NewsOne. Tarry, a life coach with a practice in New York City, said most of her clients are millennials from throughout the African Diaspora.
“They see mental health as a necessity for self-development,” she stated ahead of Tuesday, which marked the annual World Mental Health Day. “They are not accepting their parents’ ways of dealing with stress, and millennials certainly don’t view seeking out a therapist as a sign of weakness.”
One major key to improving mental health awareness is understanding that mental illness is not a personal handicap, Tarry said. That’s a classic factor for older Black generations that have typically avoided seeking help.
“Many still think of mental illness as something to pray away, a weakness that can be overcome,” Tarry explained. “Consequently, we normalize mental illnesses, such as depression, not realizing that a problem exists.”
One reason for the upward trend among younger Black people is that some celebrities—including Hip-Hop artists—have been open about their experiences dealing with mental illness.
In March, Chance the Rapper told Complex that he has anxiety, though he said he doubted that it was more intense than the average person. The 24-year-old, whose age falls toward the middle of millennials’ range of 18-34, added that he’s now learning about Black mental health.
“’Cause for a long time that wasn’t a thing that we talked about,” he said. “I don’t remember it. I don’t remember people talking about anxiety; I don’t remember, when I was growing up, that really being a thing.”
Indeed, anxiety—not depression—is the most prevalent mental health issue among millennials, according to Tarry. And the workplace is a major source of their challenges.
Compared to other generations in the same workplace, millennials tend have the most difficulty managing stress in their work environment, according to a study released last week. About 20 percent of millennials sought professional help in the study, while baby boomers and gen-Xers each sought assistance at a 16 percent rate.
Law enforcement also factored into that stress, according to a Boston University study published last year. “the police served as an additional stressor for young people of color,” the study found.
Many of Tarry’s millennial clients have felt stress over managing multiple tasks at work and competing on the job, she said. Because millennials grew up in the age of text messaging, they lack the interpersonal and communication skills of earlier generations, which has added to their challenges.
Aside from anxiety, Black millennials have been seeking help for trauma, which can also contribute considerably to developing mental health issues, the National Alliance on Mental Health found.
“There’s not enough talking about the trauma that goes back to slavery and Jim Crow,” Tarry commented.