University of Georgia

Stigma of depression hurts African Americans


The stigma associated with mental illness has a particularly negative impact on black Americans, according to Rosalyn Denise Campbell.

Rosalynn Denise Campbell“Stigma around mental illness is not unique to black Americans,” says Campbell, assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “The stigma they experience is unique because it involves a history and an experience that is related to or rooted in their racial identity.”

A person of color is already part of a group that is stigmatized, and people with a stigmatized identity are not eager to adopt another, such as mental illness, Campbell says. Many African Americans believe that both the causes and solutions for mental illness are rooted in personal shortcomings or spiritual turmoil, making medical intervention fruitless. For many, depression is not seen as an illness; it is understood as a condition or a fact of life, rather than something a physician can treat.

“The medical profession has a lot of work to do on its own before we can ask patients to trust us and our treatments,” Campbell says. “We must adopt a stance of curiosity and ask clients why some of our recommendations are not followed or accepted. Part of doing this is adopting a willingness to give up our role of expert and value the information that clients are giving to us as crucial to who they are, which is crucial to what treatments may or may not work for them.”

This brief appeared in the spring 2019 issue of  Research Magazine. The original story can be found at