Commentary: It’s Time to Fix Mental Health Services in the Black Community

How mental illness affects more than just those afflicted. 

Posted: 01/03/2013 06:06 PM EST
Commentary: It’s Time to Fix Mental Health Services in the Black Community

The cruelest problem with mental illness, of course, isn’t simply that it’s devastating to those who deal with it every day.

Bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia are hurtful in ways other illnesses are not. If untreated, they can lead their patients into behaviors — violence, crime, risky sex — that can be damaging to entire families and communities for years.

Studies that show that African-Americans have difficulty getting the help they need when it comes to mental illness are so frustrating. Lauren Harrison reported on the dearth of mental health care in the Black community on Long Island for Newsday:

African-Americans' access to mental health care can be affected by lack of financial resources, and their approach to such care is influenced by deep historical underpinnings, including stigma, suspicion of medical professionals and reliance on religion, experts say.

[…]

According to the 2011 survey, about 16 percent of people enrolled in mental health treatment in Suffolk County were African-American, compared with 66.1 percent who were white. In Nassau, 23.2 percent of those enrolled in mental health treatment were African-American, compared with 58.7 percent who were white.

Outside of Long Island, the Black mental-health woes are not any better. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness [PDF], disproportionately large Black populations in prisons and among the homeless are two major areas where mental illness thrives, and suicide rates among children aged 10 to 14 increased much faster for Blacks than whites over the past 15 years.

In short, mental illness is being allowed to run rampant in the Black community the way it isn’t in other communities in America. That has to change. Considering how things like mental illness and depression are linked with issues like crime and STDs, until we seriously attack mental illness, we’re also not seriously attacking several other issues.

The views here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Getty Images/STOCK)

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