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Dr. Tiffany Coleman: Championing Mental Health Support in African American Communities

Her PhD in Public Health dissertation explores help-seeking behaviors among Black men experiencing depression.

According to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress than white Americans.1 And yet, just one in three African American adults needing mental health care receives it.2

Statistics like these illustrate why mental health organizations and practitioners, researchers, public health professionals, and other stakeholders are working to remove barriers and increase access to mental health services for Black and African American children and adults. Dr. Tiffany Coleman, a Texas elementary school teacher who earned an online PhD in Public Health degree from Walden University in 2019, is one of those champions.

“When I realized they were dealing with this problem, I was motivated to research how to make it easier for people of color to talk about mental health and feel liberated, not ashamed, when they do,” says Dr. Coleman, author of the dissertation “Help-Seeking Experiences of African American Men With Depression.”3

“I found in my research that the severity of mental health illnesses is significantly greater for African Americans, and men in that population are less likely to seek help due to many barriers and unmet needs. This can include the fear of being misunderstood, the guilt of being a burden, socioeconomic factors, racism, inadequate health insurance and mental health care, exposure to violence and stigma, and more,” says Dr. Coleman, whose PhD in Public Health specialization was Community Health. She also earned a Master of Public Health (MPH) online degree from Walden in 2012.

Examining Obstacles

Stigma continues to impede access to mental health care in the United States, and as Dr. Coleman’s research revealed, it can be experienced even more strongly in the African American community. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), “One study showed that 63% of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness. As a result, people may experience shame about having a mental illness and worry that they may be discriminated against due to their condition.”4

“If you’re reluctant to talk about it, you’re less likely to seek help for it,” Dr. Coleman says. “A lot of men didn’t want the shame or stigma associated with it in the African American community. Men particularly believe a mental health condition is a personal weakness.”

According to the American Psychiatric Association, other barriers to treatment include a lack of providers from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, a lack of culturally competent providers, and a distrust of the healthcare system.2

“While the experience of being Black in America varies tremendously,” NAMI writes, “there are shared cultural factors that play a role in helping define mental health and supporting well-being, resiliency, and healing. … However, another part of this shared experience is facing racism, discrimination, and inequity that can significantly affect a person’s mental health.”4

Help-Seeking Insights

In addition to talking about what inhibits help-seeking behavior, participants in Dr. Coleman’s PhD in Public Health doctoral study discussed factors that promote help-seeking behavior. These include:

1) African American men understand that talking with a therapist can be helpful: “All participants reported numerous benefits to receiving help for their depression to include improved relationships, increased awareness of mental health support programs and services, increased self-confidence, improved mental health status, and the development of appropriate coping strategies and techniques.”3

2) A support system or safety net is important to help a person get through it: “Support networks can be formal such as individual or group sessions or informal such as clergy, family friends, and social networks. Support from the community is also an integral component of the African American community (Ward et al., 2013). … The findings from this study support the importance of informal and formal support systems as African American men will likely utilize both.”3

Dr. Coleman hopes her doctoral research will help champion positive social change that helps to improve mental health outcomes for African Americans.

“Treatment rates among minority populations can vastly improve if help-seeking behaviors are encouraged and promoted (Robinson, 2010),” she writes in her dissertation. “… The dissemination of this study’s findings can add to our understanding of the mental health needs of African American men to create culturally appropriate screening tools and comprehensive mental health support programs as well as reduce societal stigma and biases in terms of mental health disorders.”3

Help Is Available

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that may help. If it is an emergency, call 911. If you or someone you know is experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Call or text 1-800-985-5990 to connect with a counselor at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Find a Helpline offers a global database of services.

Become a Community Health Champion

Walden’s online PhD in Public Health degree program can help position you to become a public health professional promoting wellness in diverse communities. With students from across the United States and 116 countries,5 Walden models diversity and inclusion and offers a perspective on global health.

In the accredited university’s online public health PhD degree program, there are specializations in Community Health, Environmental and Occupational Health, and Epidemiology.

Walden also offers a Master of Public Health (MPH) online degree program, accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH). CEPH accreditation is important when choosing an MPH program because it indicates the program meets specified criteria and standards for quality.

Earning an online public health PhD or master’s degree can help prepare you for jobs in public health where you can focus your efforts on building more resilient communities. Employment for health education specialists and community health workers is projected to grow by 13% through 2029, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.6

And Walden’s public health degree programs are designed for working professionals eager to earn a degree while staying engaged in their careers and personal lives. You decide when and where you engage in your coursework—all you need is an internet connection. And with the education, skills, and tools you acquire in your PhD or master’s degree program, you’ll be well-positioned for a public health career building healthy communities and promoting positive social change.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering online public health degree programs, including a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a PhD in Public Health. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

5Source: Office of Institutional Effectiveness, Research, and Accreditation, as of December 31, 2020.

Note on Accreditation
The Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) Board of Councilors acted at its September 6, 2019, meeting to accredit the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program at Walden University for a five-year term, based on an application for accreditation submitted on February 3, 2018. On June 5, 2020, the CEPH Board of Councilors accredited the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) at Walden University, after reviewing an accreditation application submitted on April 21, 2020. CEPH is an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit schools of public health and programs of public health. CEPH accreditation provides assurance that the program has been evaluated and met accepted public health profession standards in practice, research, and service. For a copy of the final self-study document and/or final accreditation report, please contact the dean of the College of Health Sciences and Public Policy ([email protected]).

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,