The 2022 theme for Black History Month is “Black Health and Wellness.”
American healthcare has been underserved for the African American community in many ways. We have suffered a long history of healthcare disparities stemming from slavery and the lack of economic opportunity, even through Jim Crow when there were “whites only” hospitals, which were a commonplace throughout the South. This left black medical facilities that were available generally understaffed, underfunded it, or inexistent at all. Therefore, it left us to come up with our own at home remedies.
You will often hear older black people say, “Oh, I’m not going to a doctor,” “Ain’t nothing that a doctor can tell me that I can’t do for myself,” or, ”I know more than a doctor knows.” The reason for this is because they didn’t have access to the resources needed, so they had to find ways to take care of themselves by self-medicating and creating natural ways to heal their bodies.
It was not until the 20th Century when black Americans were even given the opportunity to experience institutional healthcare.
A personal story of mine relates to my grandmother, Sarah Drisdom, who was the first black nurse here in Swainsboro. She worked for Dr. Frost & Dr. Moye. The stories I would hear growing up about how she was talked to and disrespected was unbelievable. She shared how the patients didn’t want to see her and how they didn’t want a “N” word treating them. It was sickening, but because of the love my grandmother had for all people, she did not allow that to keep her from doing her job and she did it up until the day I was born. Can you imagine what she endured? Mind you, that was before integration.
After the passage of the Civil Rights Act and desegregation, healthcare became available to all people. That is when things slowly began to change. Some of the top diagnoses that kill the black community is cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
More recently, data has shown that African Americans were most likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19.
I can honestly say in my opinion, coming from a healthcare background, the lack of accessible treatment and insurance an issue. Most African Americans don’t have health insurance or the financial means to make their health a priority. Granted, we have to hold ourselves accountable, so it would be fair to say lack of knowledge is a primary reason. Therefore, we have to do our part.
We have to ask the questions and we have to do the research. We need to make sure that we are getting our routine checkups, and we need to make sure that we are physically healthy—not only for ourselves but for our families and our children as well. A lot of the health issues and sicknesses we have are genetic. If we’re not getting the proper treatment for our physical being, how do we know what we have going on that could affect our children?
This isn’t just about our physical health, however. Our mental health plays a very large role in our overall wellness. This is another health disparity in the black community. There’s been a stigma for a long time about African Americans getting mental health treatment.
Due to this stigma, our community is less likely to seek out the help they need. Let’s destigmitze this myth.
Depression is real. Stress is real. Suicide is real. They all kill. Therapy is important. Your mental health is important. Black men in particular are most likely not to seek counseling, therapy, or any professional help that they need.
Not only for the black community but for all communities, this pandemic has taken a toll on everyone’s mental health. However, being black, living through a pandemic, witnessing police brutalities, living your life in fear, and experiencing some type of hurt, whether it be from a loss of something, someone, or a significant change, is enough to make you lose your peace and go crazy. Please, get the help you need. Resources are available. Therapists are available. The help is out there. Drop the stigma, and stop being ashamed. God is very real, but therapy is too. It’s okay to pray and still see a therapist.
In closing, let’s look to a healthy future, a healthier tomorrow, and let’s make the lifestyle changes necessary to protect our health. Let’s go to our doctor to get our regular check-ups and when you’re sick. Get to know your body. When you feel like your body’s out of whack, go get the help you need. If you don’t know, ask the questions that need to be asked. Is financial assistance available? Find out your options. How do you get insurance? Does your job offer insurance? There’s the Affordable Care Act that offers affordable insurance. Seek counseling if you need it. Your mental health is important. When your mental health is off, everything else is off. Take care of your mind, and take care of your physical body.
In a nutshell, be aware of your history of black health and wellness. Be mindful of what it took for us to be able to have access to the resources, doctors, and the treatments in healthcare that we have now and take advantage of it.