State Report Tackles Mental Health Disparities

V. Diane Woods, DrPH (L) is the director and lead investigator of the California Reducing Disparities project (CRDP) for African Americans. Woods and Kristee Haggins, PH.D., a counseling psychologist in the UC Davis Counseling Center and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the African American Studies Department, attended the press conference to release a statewide study that examines ways to reduce disparities in mental health care for black Californians. For a copy of the report go to Photo by Carl M. Dameron.

African Americans in California receive far less adequate mental health treatment than whites, according to a report issued July 17 by the California Department of Mental Health. This discrepancy will continue until the state’s mental health system implements changes to make services culturally competent, according to V. Diane Woods, DrPH, the director and lead investigator of the California Reducing Disparities project (CRDP) for African Americans. “Too many African Americans end up in county jail or prison, when they may need behavioral health assistance,” said Woods, the founding president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County. “And, many African Americans do not receive appropriate mental health services, even when they go to places that are supposed to help them.” The fact-finding team initiated 35 focus groups, 45 individual interviews, 635 surveys, and nearly a dozen public forums throughout the state to gather information on African American’s opinions on what practices promote good mental health in the community. “It is important for we African Americans and everyone to shift the conversation when it comes to mental health concerns,” says Dr. Daramola Cabral Ibrahim, DrPH, Chair Health Sciences at John F. Kennedy University and a consultant on the study.  “ We need to be able to talk about a mental illness, be it depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc. as we talk about diabetes or asthma.  And, it is important to be able to talk with a willingness to learn, to be open-hearted and compassionate.” Lack of knowledge about mental health, coupled with poverty, fragmented families, stigma associated with mental health concerns, and a need for culturally proficient providers are some barriers to treatment in the black community, according to the report. “Family members, friends and co-workers are the eyes and ears of the community,” Cabral Ibrahim says.  “Early recognition and intervention can prevent major emotional issues later on in life.” The study includes more than 200 recommendations, including the development of programs to help build resilience, especially among youth; the support of community agencies, clergy and families as first responders; developing mobile mental health centers; and the requirement that mental health providers have cultural competency training. “Most of us (Blacks) know when we fall out of a tree and break our arm, we go to the hospital. But, most of us don’t know where to go when we’re severely anxious or depressed, or we are around someone who is severely anxious or depressed,” said Nicelma J. King, a public policy analyst and one of the principal investigators. “We don’t know what the response ought to be.  We won’t have change in mental health in our community until people know where to go to see about these problems.” The study on African American mental health disparities is one of five state-commissioned demographic-specific studies conducted as part of the California Reducing Disparities Project.  These reports will be compiled into a statewide strategic plan that will inform how the state will spend $60 million in funds earmarked to address mental health disparities. Woods said the next step is to start devising a statewide strategic plan, which will prioritize and fund the recommendations. For more information, call the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services at 510-567-8100.
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