The Fight for Equitable Mental Health Care - Creating a System that Works for Black Youth.
According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black youth are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. So why are less than a quarter accessing the mental health services they need, and how can we at Nexus Youth and Families fix that?
Black History Month is a great opportunity for everyone to look back on revolutionary Black lives and their impact on the world we live in. This month-long celebration of Black achievement and perseverance can be both inspiring and heartbreaking, as we reflect on the continued inequities faced by the Black community in America and abroad. At the forefront in this struggle for recognition are young people of color, who are often the population which suffers the most due to inequitable access to resources and services. Often times this limited access to care is major factor in the school-to-incarceration pipeline, which blocks the potential of Black youth before it's even begun to start.
This lack of care can be caused by a number of factors, from limited providers to cultural stigma. Let's take a look at a few possible causes.
One reason young people of color may not access services is due to the stigma associated with mental illness. While all populations face stigma surrounding mental illness it has been proven that young people of color, specifically young Black men, experience some of the worst. For more information on the role of social and cultural stigma in mental health among young men of color, check out this study from RISE BMOC. Link here.
Another reason for young people of color avoiding mental healthcare is due the the high rates of misdiagnosis, inadequate treatment, and lack of equitable practices by service providers. Historically, Black Americans have been and continue to be negatively affected by prejudice and discrimination in the health care system. This can cause distrust of service providers, which leads young people of color to avoid seeking the care they may need.
So how can we as a community fight back against the conscious and unconscious biases which are keeping young people of color from successful mental health care?
It starts with culturally competent providers. Studies have shown that mental healthcare providers who do not prioritize cultural competency among their staff are more likely to misdiagnose or fail to diagnose serious mental illness, especially among young men of color. By requiring staff to be culturally competent, maintaining equitable hiring practices, and working to integrate diverse beliefs and practices into care we as service providers can create a system in which young people of color are empowered rather than hindered by mental healthcare.
Programs such as Black-lead equity groups or committees, mandatory cultural competency training, and equitable hiring practices, along with projects like Sharing Hope by the National Alliance on Mental Illness can help service providers create an agency-wide culture of equity, both for staff and clients.
At Nexus Youth and Families we are working towards creating this culture of equity. Lead by an instructor with over a decade of experience undoing institutional racism, we are working to identify and remedy those sources of inequity within our agency. While still its infancy, we believe our work is critical, not only to providing a better environment for our clients and staff, but to developing the skills we need to combat inequities faced in our day-to-day lives.
We hope that, as our work continues, will we be able to show you how this effort has benefited our staff, clients, and community. While we understand that the fight against institutional racism wont be won in a day, we are committed to fighting every day for the equitable futures of the young people we serve.