, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 156-166

Seeking professional help for personal problems: Black American's use of health and mental health services

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This article explored the use of health and mental health services for serious personal problems in a national sample of adult black Americans. The results indicated low usage of the mental health sector in response to problems. Only 9% of the respondents who sought professional help contacted a community mental health center, psychiatrist or psychologist. Mental health usage was low even among respondents who felt their problem brought them to the point of a nervous breakdown and among respondents who conceptualized their distress in “emotional” terms. The traditional health care sector (doctors, hospitals) and ministers were used more often by blacks in distress. When the use of professional help only is considered, there appeared to be a large pocket of unmet need in the black community. When the use of informal help is taken into consideration, however, the percentage of respondents who did not receive help was considerably lower. The implications of these findings for professional service delivery are discussed.

The preparation of this article was supported by a grant from the National Institute for Mental Health (Center for Minority Group Mental Health) and the Rockefeller Foundation. The authors would like to thank Linda Chatters, James Jackson and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The author would also like to thank Beverly Williams for typing this manuscipt.