The State of Black Mental Health in Alameda County: A Call for Action

Lawford L. Goddard, Ph.D.

As a result of historical discrimination and public policy, the majority of African Americans in Alameda County live in high poverty, economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that lack basic resources that promote healthy living. On almost every indicator of socio-economic well-being, the African American population is at the lowest level compared to other racial/ethnic groups.

In Alameda County, one in three African Americans live in high-poverty neighborhoods (20-29% of the residents living in poverty) as compared to one in fifteen for whites. People living in these neighborhoods face multiple serious stressors, like poverty, unemployment, and violence. Social isolation and lack of social support reduce the ability to cope with everyday stress. Constant pressures and lack of control trigger a chronic stress response, which over time actually wears down body systems and increases the risk of conditions like hypertension and diabetes. Stress is a major contributor to mental illness, placing people at high risk of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and in many instances co-occurring disorders.

Even when African Americans are able to live in more affluent areas, they still experience higher levels of stress compared to other racial/ethnic groups in the county.

The African American severe mental illness related hospitalization rates in the county have been consistently higher than all other groups from 1999 to 2011, indicating persistent ongoing disparity.

It is necessary to break out of the paradigm that has historically governed the service delivery modality in Alameda County and explore different modes of service delivery.

Service delivery for the African American community must move beyond an emphasis on evidence-based practices that have not been effective with African Americans and utilize those community-defined practices that African Americans have developed, used and determined to yield positive results. While these community-based practices may or may not have been measured empirically, they have reached a level of acceptance by the community as determined by community consensus over time.

Ultimately, the solution requires systemic changes that are based on the utilization of African American cultural precepts in the provision of services.  Service delivery practices must move beyond the individualistic perspective that is central to Western psychology and focus on the family and community as the units of service delivery. Services have to be provided in a culturally congruent (responsive) manner to the African American community.  In doing so, service providers can begin to effectively address the health and well-being of the African American community and reduce some of the disparities.

The Association of Black Psychologists, Bay Area Chapter (ABPsi-Bay Area) is committed to providing the Post Newspaper readership with monthly discussions about critical issues in Black Mental Health. The ABPsi-Bay Area is a healing resource. We can be contacted at ([email protected]) and readers are welcome to join us at our monthly chapter meeting, every third Saturday at the West Oakland Youth Center from 10 am – 12 pm.

Lawford L. Goddard, Ph.D. is a Bay Area-ABPsi, Elder Board Member, Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), Former National Convention Co-Chair and Lecturer Emeritus in the Africana Studies Department, San Francisco State University.



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