The TLC Foundation for BFRBs Young Adult Action Council met with a variety of community members from underserved populations that shared their experiences within our community to grow better understanding and celebrate diversity.
In this article, they talked with two black community members about their experiences with BFRBs.
How would you say hair and skin are valued in black culture?
Lindsey: There is a big emphasis in the black community on having long, full hair, on having "good" hair and having lighter, fairer skin. You're perceived as more beautiful when you have either or both.
Erika: Hair, skin, and nails, and appearance are highly valued in the African American community, especially being a female. A lot of people in my culture strive to have good-looking hair and often do not mess with it in public. Other African American girls have mocked me because of the unevenness of my hair growth on my scalp due to my BFRB.
What is the attitude towards mental illness and treatment in the African American community?
Erika: Mental illness in the African American community is often ignored and underrepresented in the media, so oftentimes young African Americans may not even be willing to discuss mental illness. While receiving treatment as an African American can be embarrassing, parents often dismiss their child's mental health concerns and say it is a personal weakness rather than an issue and the assumption of "only crazy white people go see therapists".
Lindsey: Historically, the African American community has negatively stigmatized all mental health disorders, so there is a sense of having to keep to yourself while you are suffering, but then as times have changed the black community is starting to warm up to talking about mental health, but only the disorders or problems that are becoming normalized in mainstream media and trichotillomania doesn't fall into that category. So for black people like me, we have to fight to have our mental health validated within our own homes, families, and communities while simultaneously having a disorder that even in mainstream culture isn't normalized.
Do you think black people face unique challenges in having a BFRB or accessing resources?
Erika: ABSOLUTELY! Education in the African American community is minimal and oftentimes you are mocked, with BFRBs being considered a "foolish behavior". Meanwhile, for white people, families may be more understanding and may recommend treatment without fear. The biggest barriers to accessing treatment for African Americans with BFRBs are social acceptance, education, and stigma around mental illness.
Lindsey: You have to look at treatment through an intersectional lens. There are levels to feeling comfortable with a mental health practitioner and that they may be able to treat trichotillomania, but will they understand the cultural influences that affect my trichotillomania? Will they be able to understand my community's value of hair? POC have to think of getting treatment beyond just treating this disorder. White culture is the mainstream culture, so white Americans might not have to think or question if their mental health practitioner will understand what affects them and why on this level. Personally, I can't speak for others' experiences when seeking treatment. But I've found it difficult to find someone to treat me who looks like me in my area, and it's been disheartening at times. Finding treatment for this disorder is difficult in general for all, but there's just another layer of difficulty for POC.
How can The TLC Foundation better help or represent people of color with BFRBs?
Lindsey: They could be just represented. Period. Having our stories told, having our faces on promotions, that lets us know that there are others like us out there. It's hard to identify with a cause or a movement when you don't hear or see yourself represented in it.
Erika: REPRESENTATION. African Americans need representation in the mental health community. A majority of the time, you only see white people that are pictured. I think TLC could help us by creating a minority support blog.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Lindsey: You can't overcome what is shrouded in secrecy. And I think that stigma towards mental health is one of the biggest hindrances to black people seeking help.
Erika: You may not see yourself represented in the media or self-help websites, but just know, you are not the only one going through a BFRB journey.