'Married to Medicine' star Dr. Imani Walker on how the pandemic is impacting mental health in the Black community

'Married to Medicine' star Dr. Imani Walker talks mental health in the Black community: 'The events of last year between COVID infections running really high in Black communities, all of the racial and civil unrest that occurred, all of the Black folks that got assassinated got killed by police enforcement - 2020 definitely took a toll on us'

Video Transcript

IMANI WALKER: Even though we're almost a year into COVID-- we may believe, oh, we've been doing this for a while, so now I'm going to kind of get into the swing of things. But unfortunately, that's not what's happening. The events of last year, between COVID infection's running really high in black communities, all of the racial and civil unrest that occurred, all of the Black folks that got assassinated, got killed by police enforcement-- 2020 definitely took a toll on us.

The state of mental health in the black community is pretty dire, despite the fact that we are actually really good at putting on a game face. We are dealing with higher rates of mental illness in general compared to whites. We are five times more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness in this country. It could be depression, anxiety. Some of us may also be dealing with things like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

I read a study recently that had shown that compared to white women, women who are Black in this country, they're dealing with financial stressors, social stressors, race and racism. All of those factors really do begin to wear us down. And we've actually been really good at disguising our pain for hundreds of years.

We're programmed to disguise our pain because of slavery. The master of the plantation or the mistress of the plantation-- look, they gave us these rags to wear. Look, they gave us this awful to eat. And we were told that we should be grateful for that.

And I think that has extended down the line 400 years ago, all the way up until now. Just because we were used to things not being the best doesn't mean that we still should be living at a base level of things being tolerable. Like, we should expect more of ourselves and more for ourselves as well.

I'm kind of an introvert and I'm a homebody. And I have a history of anxiety and depression. And I definitely have sought out therapy for myself. I've definitely gotten my medication adjusted.

Any type of mental illness, that isolation may have exacerbated, whether it's substance abuse, eating disorder, like binge eating disorder, whether it's even being a victim of abuse, or maybe being an abuser-- all of those are situations where increased isolation is going to make the situation worse. When it comes to Black folks and mental health, we really do need to make sure that we are talking to each other, that we are talking to our families. I think that a lot of mental health issues are buried because of stigma.

We need to be able to be willing to definitely get the help for ourselves. We do as a whole, let alone Black folks, we do need access to more mental health services. I've actually been seeing the majority, if not all of my patients via telemedicine, via telepsychiatry. And that's been really helpful because there are people who maybe their nearest clinic is three hours away.

I was able to use the time that I did have, this particular spotlight, when I was on "Married to Medicine LA" to make sure that I did get the message out. That, like, hey, I'm a black psychiatrist. This is what we look like. This is what we sound like. We do care about you. It was always for me about making sure that people who looked like me were able to use the tools that I've learned to be able to better themselves.