The Importance of Acknowledging Minority Mental Health
Minority Mental Health Month is recognized to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States.
According to McLean Hospital, statistics tell us that about 25% of African Americans (AAs) seek mental health treatment, compared to 40% of white Americans. Coming from a historical background where health issues, including mental health, are often compounded by the psychological stress of systemic racism, just one in three African Americans who struggle with mental health issues will never receive appropriate treatment.
The CDC states that ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. 2016-2019 estimates for diagnosis among children aged 3-17 years are given below.
- ADHD 9.8% (approximately 6.0 million)2
- Anxiety 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)2
- Behavior problems 8.9% (approximately 5.5 million)2
- Depression 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)2
Knowing the facts is critical. What we know is that minority children are at a higher risk of not receiving mental health services. A Second Chance, Inc. prides itself in providing connections to mental health services when assisting with the triad of birth parents, caregivers, and youth.
ASCI had the opportunity to speak with the Director of Social Services at One Kingdom Ministries CAE Worldwide, Michele Irby, to discuss minority mental health and destigmatizing mental health in the Black community.
What are some barriers for African Americans to receive adequate mental health care?
Michele Irby: Some of the things that I’ve seen in practice is the lack of comprehensive healthcare. That affects affordability, accessibility, and overall universal coverage. The other thing that I’ve seen is systemic racism within the healthcare system, which results in poor quality medical care, poor health outcomes, and generational mistrust of the system.
What are some things we can do as individuals and collectively to change the mental health stigma in the Black community?
MI: I think that it’s necessary to first understand that stigma is a form of discrimination, and discrimination is usually a mixture of ignorance and biases that a person has formed that negatively influences their attitudes and beliefs. It’s always good to have a definition of something. Now that we can understand what stigma is, we can treat it. The first way to treat it is by normalizing the idea of mental illness. The second way to treat is by making a conscious effort to use language that’s empowering and not traumatizing. Like, oh, they’re just crazy, I don’t know what’s wrong with them. That is an extremely traumatizing conversation or language. Or to say, oh, they’re just bipolar. They really could be, but it’s an extremely traumatizing language.
Empowering language should be intentional in our private, professional, and even our social media conversations. As much as possible, educate yourself and make sure that you’re disseminating the correct information about all things mental illness. Then the last thing is to connect with local grassroots organizations that have the resources and abilities to create programs and interventions that will help eventually eradicate stigmas on a macro level.
Today, the mental health of our youth is constantly challenged by the effects of social media. How can parents and caregivers help their youth better equip themselves with the tools to overcome the negative effects of social media?
MI: Let’s start by saying that social media is a powerful tool in aiding mental health wellness. We really needed it when COVID came, and it really stretched the breadth and depth of how services were being rendered since we were confined to our homes. However, it is important to consider the risks and the ways to make sure that children are protected when using technological tools. One, you want to use safeguards. You want to create boundaries and monitor what your children are exposing themselves to.
Two, do not leave them to their own devices. I understand that some children are extremely mature, but they cannot conceptualize like adults can. It may take one controversial post to change their ideas about everything. Don’t allow them to explore social media without exploring it with them; be by their side. Be open to having difficult conversations about the issues we are presently facing. Don’t make the environment “so cold” that they feel insecure about asking questions.
Then, lastly, explain to them that everything they see and hear is not true. I mean, this is just a technological, artificial intelligence-driven era. They have so much access to so many things that sometimes it is hard to tell the real from the fake. We need to be willing to have more conversations with our children about what is real and what is false. Don’t allow them to spend so much time on social media.
When I was growing up, I had a computer, I had a cell phone, but I also had to play outside. I participated in extracurricular activities. Encourage your children to be social, outside of virtual media. This will be a metric by which they can measure what is real and what is fake.
At what rate have you seen minorities seeking mental health over the course of these past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
MI: Unfortunately, I have not seen many BIPOCs seek professional treatment in the wake of COVID-19. Regrettably, minority clinicians make up a very small portion of behavioral health workers, especially where I live. If you go to Cleveland, a bigger city, there is a larger population of both Black clinicians and Black clients. Because of that, in turn, it disillusions BIPOC from actively seeking services due to the belief that non-Black clinicians are not sufficient in cultural competence to provide appropriate or effective services. I believe the more minority professionals begin to increase, so will the number of minority clients.
Let me tag this on because this is what I’ve learned too. When I did my internship, it was in a place called Cortland, Ohio, and it’s predominantly upper-class white. I mean, you have million-dollar homes around the corner from the church where I provided services. What I’ve learned is we can assist clients in getting past the initial barriers such as location, engagement, stigma, etc. However, I’ve found that the BIPOC population struggles with sustainability and consistency.
This could be due to situations such as the disparity rate of single mothers. Or that Black men make up 40% of the prison system which leaves a deficit in our communities and homes. Or that higher-paying jobs are not occupied by BIPOC individuals. Therefore, I see that starting therapy and continuing therapy are two different things. For the year and a half I was completing my internship, I had one Black client, who I only saw once. It was very rare that my non-Black clients canceled. It takes a lot of resilience on our end to really work with the BIPOC population because it fluctuates so much.
What advice would you have for new minority therapists entering the field of psychology?
MI: Be patient, be very patient. This is a process. I’m a licensed social worker. It took two and a half years to get my master’s. Then I had to sit for the licensure. Then, if you want to be licensed in different states, you have to go through that process. It is also a very expensive process. Make sure that you got your coins lol, okay!? Because it is very expensive. But you have to be patient.
You need a strong support system! That can consist of family, friends, a therapist, and your church. Don’t slight yourself. If therapy is what you want to do, do not settle. Two and a half years later, I’m happy that I stood the course. We definitely have the power to change the system, we just have to be patient. Be confident in who you are as a clinician, and never get tired of learning. Always want to learn, always want to grow. Don’t jump at the $100,000 corporate job right away because the minority population that we’re trying to serve, they don’t live on that level.
Your value and worth are not directly attached to how much you make or even how many letters you have behind your name, it’s what you bring to the letters. Every no you receive builds a bridge to your purpose. Lastly, your career is not a competition because you are the best at being you.
ASCI thanks Michele Irby for her insight on minority mental health! Please see the below black-owned mental health services.
Black Owned Services:
Boys 2 Men – A Second Chance, Inc.
A comprehensive, four-phase curriculum designed to teach young men, ages 9—13, tools to encourage good habits and moral standards. When young men acquire these skill sets at an early age, it can ensure their development into more positive and productive members of their communities. For more information contact Gary Alred (Youth Engagement Services) at 412-509-4055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Youth Engagement Services (Y.E.S) Teen Group – A Second Chance, Inc.
Helps youth prepare for the future. We teach life skills, like how to manage money; offer career counseling; and prepare them for college and careers. For more information contact Gary Alred (Youth Engagement Services) at 412-509-4055 or email@example.com
We Are Beautiful Outreach Programs, Inc. – Starshemah Duncan, MS
A monthly program for youth and young ladies ages 7-18 years old. For more information contact Starshemah Duncan (For My Good Counseling Services LLC). 412-228-0714 or Fmgcounselingservices@gmail.com
Social Work Consulting & Counseling, LLC – Jessica Gurley, LCSW
www.swcchelp.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Insurance Accepted for therapy services:
Blu Cross/ Blue Shield
Self-Pay/ Private Pay
Call (412) 204-6934 to ask about the low-income sliding scale.