What it’s like to be young and Black in the mental health system

According to statistics, Black people are more likely to experience discrimination and misdiagnosis when accessing mental health services. The Mix finds out more about their experiences.

True Stories

Four young Black people are standing against a pink background. One of them is on their phone looking for mental health support.

Everyone deserves to have access to safe, welcoming mental health services. Our experiences can unfortunately differ widely depending on who we are and other people’s stereotypes of us. This can lead to discrimination, unfair treatment, or even misdiagnosis for a patient.  

People from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups are at a higher risk of facing discrimination and institutional racism when accessing mental health services. According to the Mental Health Foundation, Black people are more likely be diagnosed with a mental health condition or enter the mental health service via the courts. Statistics also show that black people are four times more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. We spoke to a group of young Black women to find out about their experiences of seeking support.

Stacey, 22, Essex

I was first referred to a counsellor by my head of year at school in Year 7. At first I was against it and was completely mute during my first couple of sessions, but over time I began opening up. I realised I wasn’t aggressive because I was angry, but because I was hurt.  

Even though I was treated well by all the counsellors, the one I connected with the most was a Black woman. I experienced racism at uni, was dealing with a miscarriage and I fell into severe depression. I’m glad I had her because she understood how damaging the racism was. The other members of staff I spoke to who were white tried to downplay what I had experienced. She just held my hand and told me she understood me. I cried the entire session and it was the best one I’ve had in years because she understood me, as a Black woman. If I didn’t have her, I don’t think I would be here.

I realised that I’m an emotional person and I love hard. For years I was told that I was cold and unloveable, but I realised that I can be loved and having emotions isn’t a bad thing. Each day I find new ways to express my emotions and I’m no longer aggressive. I manage my mental health through meditation and currently use the Calm app. Also, I’ve taken myself away from things that don’t make me happy. I talk to my partner about how I feel and he helps me out a lot. I’ve dealt with my depression and anxiety for so long I know when I need professional help and I’m no longer afraid to ask for it.

Rachel, 24, London

I suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD. My mental health problems started as a result of a traumatic childhood. I’ve had cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) once and counselling a few times, including right now. When I had CBT years ago, I didn’t find it useful because the therapist was rude and patronising.  

Every time I’ve had counselling, though, it’s been helpful. I come from a family where I was treated as though my feelings didn’t matter and I didn’t exist, so it’s nice to have a safe and private space where you can discuss your issues. Whenever I’ve had counselling I’ve always brought up cultural issues because they’ve had a detrimental impact on my life and mental health. They’ve been the cause of a lot of issues I’ve had growing up.

There’s still a lot of stigma regarding mental health in certain cultures, so that holds Black and ethnic minority people back from accessing services. Unless you have the money and can afford to go privately, you’re in for a long wait. At the moment I’m trying things that help me clear my head, such as skipping, going for walks and relaxing.

Kellie, London

I needed a counsellor because I was going through a lot of depression. I was skeptical about it, but I thought I’d give it a go. Luckily I had a good counsellor; she understood me completely and listened to me. I don’t think my counsellor treated me differently because I was Black, but I do know some people who have been treated differently. My counsellor treated me like a normal human being. If I wanted to talk about race it would probably not be with my counsellor because she wouldn’t be able to fully relate. I had other people to speak to about race. Through counselling I found out who I am, how to deal with family dramas and issues, as well as breathing techniques and exercises. The whole process was quite refreshing as I found the real me by just sitting down with someone once a week and venting and letting all my emotions out.  

Jessica, 19, London

I finally got referred to a counsellor. She was a person of colour but a lot of the issues I wanted to talk about were about being Black. I felt like I couldn’t really talk about it as she would cut me off a lot and sometimes ask if my feelings were valid or relevant. Though I stayed with her for around four months I thought the therapy sessions were disorganised and she was quite impatient with me. If I had to take some time with certain issues it was like I was getting told off. At one point she demanded to know if I didn’t like talking to her for some reason and kept asking me throughout the session. I left after that. I haven’t been back to therapy since. Honestly I feel like Blackness and Black issues aren’t the place for therapy because I don’t know how the therapist will react if I raise them.

If you need support

If you’re struggling with your mental health and looking for a Black or ethnic minority therapist, visit The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network. If you are the victim of racist bullying or think you’ve been discriminated against report it at iStreetWatch or speak to a close friend or trusted adult, like a teacher. You can also speak to The Mix; our services are free and confidential. Get in touch with our team today.

Read our self-care guide for those impacted by racism.

*names have been changed

Next Steps

  • Mind offers advice and support to people with mental health problems. Their helpline runs nine to six from Monday to Friday. 0300 123 3393
  • You can talk to Childline about anything. Call them for free on 0800 1111 or visit their website.
  • YoungMinds are the voice for young people's mental health and wellbeing.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.


Updated on 08-Oct-2021