Dr. King and Mental Health

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As an adult, Dr. King experienced bouts of severe depression. From childhood, he experienced highs and lows. A brilliant student and writer, he skipped his freshman and senior years of high school before enrolling at Morehouse College at the age of 15. During this same period, following the death of his beloved grandmother, he also attempted suicide twice. The stigma against individuals with mental illness, still very much alive today, was even more pronounced in the 1950s and 1960s. Concerned that people opposed to the Civil Rights Movement would use it as a way to try to discredit him, his incidents of depression remained a closely held secret among family, friends, and his inner circle during his lifetime.

Dr. King was jailed 29 times for peaceful civil disobedience or protests (one charge was for walking on the grass). He spent the last 13 years of his life under constant threat of physical harm. He survived an assassination attempt in 1958, where a stabbing narrowly missed his aorta. He constantly worried about the health and safety of his children and wife. If he were seen by a mental health professional today, it is most likely he would have been diagnosed with PTSD, in addition to long-standing clinical depression.

The stigma that forced Dr. King to keep secret his experience with depression still negatively affects millions of people throughout the United States. An increasing body of research in neuropsychology and clinical psychology is demonstrating PTSD like symptoms from a young age for black youth exposed to microaggressions, vicarious traumatization, and systemic discrimination. [see also, Minority Mental Health: Everyday Traumas and Microaggressions.

Additionally, while rates of behavioral health disorders may not significantly differ from the general population, Black Americans have substantially lower access to mental health and substance-use treatment services. (Graph, SAMSHA, 2020).

Part of the legacy of Dr. King is: Mental Health is for All.

Embolden Psychology
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Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

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