In the previous article we discussed issues most essential to promoting mental health services in the African American community. We also looked at the consequences of untreated mental health and barriers such as drug abuse, self-harm, suicide, criminal behavior, juvenile delinquency, stigma, and lack of knowledge.
Because we rarely hear discussion about mental health among ethnic minority groups, a lot of therapists, families, caregivers, and friends are uninformed about needs. Over the course of my career, I have become increasingly aware of the needs of ethnic groups, primarily the African American community.
Here are a few things ethnic groups need in mental health care:
- Proper representation: The majority of our inmate population entails men with untreated or severe mental illness. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center (n.d.) mental illness includes about “16 percent of the total jail and prison inmate population, or nearly 300,000 individuals.” People of color are poorly represented in the criminal/juvenile justice system and rarely receive mental health attention. This must change!
- Broad Discussion: We have no excuse for why we haven’t discussed mental health care in our communities. Frequent killings, imprisonments, and other crimes should inspire an in-depth discussion. If a national discussion never takes place, we need to start at home.
- Access to services:
- Advertisement: The majority of African American families are in urban areas or larger cities. As a result, access to services in rural and suburban areas is difficult financially and geographically. It is important that mental health professionals consider how various cultural groups will gain access to their business. It is one thing to have a business advertised online, but it is another to have it advertised in libraries or other areas families of need will notice it.
- Financial: It can be difficult for families of lower SES (socio-economic status) to afford treatment. Sliding scale fees (fees based on income), access to financial resources, and government funds are all helpful. Having this information readily available is extremely useful.
- Discharge from incarceration: Sadly, many males of color end up in the criminal/juvenile justice system instead of in mental health treatment. Often, anti-social behavior, drug abuse, confrontational attitudes, suicidal ideation, and depression are an extension of “criminal-like” behavior. The goal for advocates should be to de-criminalize mental illness and bring broad awareness to treatment.
- Drug treatment (tx): Another problem for men of color is access to substance abuse treatment facilities. The reality is that the majority of drug abuse is self-medication. It is important that mental health professionals, families, friends, and caregivers try to understand the reason for drug abuse/dependency. Once the nature of that abuse is understood, proper tx can occur. For individuals leaving incarceration, access to drug tx should be readily available.
These are issues that we must pay attention to as family members, friends, caretakers, and professionals close to individuals who may be in need of mental health care. We have to reduce our natural tendency to “criminalize” the mentally ill and punish them for their behavior. Proper knowledge and understanding of behavior and why criminal acts are performed will lead to greater healing.
I encourage you to spread the word and begin a mission to promote change.
All the best
Treatment Advocacy Center. (n.d.). Consequences of non-treatment. Retrieved February 9, 2013, http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/problem/consequences-of-non-treatment.
photo credit 1: Anissa Thompson
photo credit 2: gementricxs