During the month of February, we often witness the transformation of various stores, restaurants, and other public spaces promoting the celebration of Black History Month. Spreading awareness and education about Black history is essential to recognize that the history of America, as a whole, does not exist apart from the incredible contributions and immense sacrifices of Black Americans. As we continue to strive toward ending systemic and systematic injustices against the Black community, it is also necessary to deepen our focus beyond a single month of honoring Black figures, impacts, and culture.
While we recognize that some progress has been made, it is also critical to acknowledge that the mental health system was built upon systems of oppression, harming Black Americans and communities, leading to generational trauma, fear, and mistrust, and contributing to the stigma that often prevents people from seeking the mental health care and treatment that is vital to people from all walks of life.
Learn more about the barriers and stigmas in the BIPOC community that prevents many from getting the help and support they need. Mental health issues and disorders do not discriminate. They affect people of all races, ethnicities, gender, and identity, but we often fail to recognize the compounding mental health impact that slavery, racism, and systems of oppression have had on the Black community. Additionally, African Americans have been disproportionately underserved based on social stigma, race-based exclusion from and discrimination within health and economic institutions, and the resulting mistrust of a system that was not built to support them. These barriers to treatment have been perpetuated, in part, by a lack of diverse representation within the behavioral health profession, and a lack of research focused on identifying disparities and culturally informed and relevant best practices. It is our responsibility as mental health professionals to work towards breaking this cycle and recreating a system that promotes inclusiveness, belonging, and ownership for Black clients, communities, and providers.
Statistics paint a much more raw, critical picture. We know that:
- 1 in 4 Americans are affected by mental illness, but African Americans are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues. However, only 25% of African Americans seek treatment, compared to 40% of white Americans.
- Only 6.2% of psychologists, 12.6% of social workers, and 21.3% are members of marginalized groups.
These figures highlight the criticality of education and action throughout the entire year and for many years to come, not just February. I encourage you to reflect on where you can make a real impact in moving toward equity and inclusion. Continue to increase your own education and awareness and use the power and energy that you have to move positive change forward through personal conversations, financial investment, public policy, and advocacy.
At Jefferson Center, it is our policy and mission to be inclusive and do everything we can to build a community where mental health matters for everyone and equitable care is accessible to all. We will continue to highlight this work in February and throughout the rest of the year.
– Kiara Kuenzler, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist, President and CEO