The topic of Black mental health is still taboo in the Black community. It’s something many live years undiagnosed with. Or they keep it hidden as if it is something to be ashamed of. We are so conditioned for hardship that we often don’t realize that we may be suffering from some kind of mental health issue whether it be mild, severe, permanent, or temporary.
And when we turn on the TV, more often than not, the issue of mental health is only addressed through white characters. However, that is slowly changing. Over the course of the past few years, Hollywood has been making it a point to use its artistry to shed light on the many different forms of mental health in the Black community.
And while the stories are entertaining, they spark the conversations that need to be had. Whether it be depression, schizophrenia, or postpartum depression, these movies and shows bring Black mental health awareness to the forefront.
And while we have a long road ahead of us before we normalize seeking therapy and normalizing mental health, these shows are a step in the right direction.
See what shows and movies highlight Black mental health. If you feel we are missing something, please comment below!
Million Little Things
A Million Little Things starts with the suicide of the character John, a white man. His sudden death comes as a shock to his friends and family. However, at the same time, the phone call that informed his friend Rome (Romany Malco), a black man, that he had committed suicide, actually saved Rome’s life as he had a handful of pills and was about to take his own life. Romes’ storyline sheds light on the silent battle of depression so many black people deal with. It also explores how the older black community feel on the subject as well as handling depression within a black marriage.
Frankie & Alice
Based on a true story, in the film, Halle Berry portrays a woman who suffers from a dissociative identity disorder. The disorder was caused by a traumatic incident from her childhood and has had a massive effect on her life. The movie showcases a medical diagnosis and proper psychiatric treatment, which is something the Black community needs to see as many don’t seek mental health treatment.
This is Us
This NBC drama is a fan-favorite and it never shys away from dealing with hard issues like its black male character Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and his battle with anxiety. The show shares flashbacks of his non-trauma-based panic attacks, dialogue about his post breakdown hospitalization, and honest conversations with his wife Bethany about going to therapy.
His portrayal of his panic attack was praised by health professionals.
In an interview with Health magazine, Dr. James Murrough, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, said, “This was a pretty accurate portrayal. When you’re experiencing a panic attack, it can feel like you’re dying or losing your mind,” he said. “The blurring of his vision gave the feeling of detachment or unreality. Depersonalization or feeling disconnected from your body is another common symptom of a panic attack.”
The series centers on the three black millennials as they navigate through adulthood while dealing with their own inner battles. One of the characters, in particular, Journee (Vanessa Baden) struggles with bipolar disorder, a mood disorder associated with episodes of mood swings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs, and can’t hold a job due to her mental illness.
It sheds light on not only how one deals with this illness but the lack of understanding from the outside world.
Being Mary Jane
In Being Mary Jane, Dr. Lisa Hudson (Latarsha Rose) struggles with depression for years and has attempted suicide in the past before actually dieing by suicide. Her storyline shows the world another face of depression and suicide. A successful black woman who’s is living with a lot of pain, many of which stemmed from her childhood and past, despite have successes in her career.
Black-ish is a comedy that often deals with heavy issues but in a lighter way, without undermining their importance. And the show did the same when it addressed Rainbow Johnson’s (Tracee Ellis Ross) postpartum depression after giving birth to her youngest son. While only confined to a single episode, it is able to show the effect that has on her and her loved ones. Her seeking medical help and going on medication. As well as her having an open and honest conversation with her kids about her mental health.
The movie The Soloist is the story of a gifted musician named Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx) whose mental illness drove him from the halls of The Juilliard School in New York to the living on Skid Row in Los Angeles. This film sheds light on the Black homeless community who is often over looked and many times dealing with mental issues.
All The Bright Places
The Netflix film is an adaptation of the YA novel of the same name. It follows two high school students who are facing either dealing with grief or mental health. The male lead, Finch (who was white in the book) is played by Justice Smith and he is a black young man with bipolar disorder.
Orange Is the New Black
In Orange Is the New Black, Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba) suffered from a myriad of mental health issues. And the show wasn’t the most sensitive to her issues but the bigger picture that we saw was how it shed light on Black mental health in the prison system. As well
The series also shed light on the misunderstanding that the justice system has towards the mentally ill.
Silver Lining Playbook
Chris Tucker’s character is not a huge storyline but he is a black man who is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Something we need to see more, so we can continue to destigmatize mental health treatment.
She’s Gotta Have It
PTSD comes in many forms and after Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) gets attacked she is, like many, in denial that she is suffering from some sort of trauma. However, after trying to deal with her ordeal through a psychic, tarot card reader, and spiritual cleanser, Nola goes to a therapist. Her storyline was important because we watched as she began to spiral and then we watched her reach her peaking point and go seek professional help. Therapy in the Black community is still something many dismiss believing they can fix all their problems on their own.
In the film Poppy Shakespeare, the titular character, played by Naomie Harris, is in denial of her mental disorder. However when she is put into a mental health care facility she and discovers more about her condition.
We are extremely grateful that the spinoff of Blackish explored the struggle of Gen-Z college students. Why? Because it is extremely relevant. After on of Zoey’s (Yara Shahidi) peers attempts suicide, the resident assistant Aaron Jackson (Trevor Jackson) is deeply affected. So he uses that incident to speak openly to the school’s Black community of students about mental health.
You watch as students initially dismiss the importance of what he is doing and then slowly but surely began to have vulnerable conversations in regards to their mental health, reaching out for help, and supporting each other.
Out of Darkness
The 1994 film centers on Paulie Cooper (Diana Ross) a promising medical student whose career is cut short when she is diagnosed with severe paranoid schizophrenia. For 17 years, she struggles with the condition, being hospitalized dozens of times, exhausting the efforts of her mother (Ann Weldon) to keep her healthy and safe. Finally, an experimental drug is able to bring Paulie back from the precipice of insanity, but, as she returns to her medical studies, she is confronted by people’s fears and prejudices regarding her illness.
Dear White People
Dear White People used its character Reggie (Marque Richardson) to show black people’s increase of mental health issues due to institutionalized racism. In the show, Reggie gets racially profiled by the police at a party. At the party, Reggie and the white kid get into an altercation. However, when the cops arrive they hold a gun in Green’s face only and demand his student ID. The downward spiral he suffers following that incident shows how traumatic racism is towards black people.