July 20, 2021

Guest Blog: Minority Mental Health Month Shines a Light on Mental Healthcare Inequities

Erika Clark Jones, CEO for the ADAMH Board of Franklin County

July is Minority Mental Health month. While mental illness does not discriminate, this annual observance serves as a reminder that individuals in underserved and ethnically underrepresented communities struggle with similar challenges to accessing quality mental healthcare as they do with physical healthcare needs.

This observance was established by Congress in 2008 to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States. Officially known as the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it is named for the late author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on mental health needs in communities of color.

Yet barriers to accessible, equitable behavioral healthcare for underrepresented populations persist and, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, include income, stigma, healthcare providers unaware of culturally informed treatments or lack of managed care coverage for extended behavioral healthcare needs.

Many diverse Americans are impacted daily by these mental healthcare inequities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 40 percent of the U.S. population are people of color and 13.6 percent were born in a different country. Additionally, one in five adults in the United States has a mental illness – and that was before the pandemic (SAMHSA). The global pandemic has amplified these existing challenges here in Franklin County and across the state.

Collectively, we can begin to address these issues by meeting patient needs in low barrier settings and in familiar ways.  This includes supporting behavioral healthcare providers that, through experience AND education, are trained, empathetic clinicians who know how to deliver culturally competent care. It also means attracting and recruiting diverse professionals to serve in community-based clinical settings. The Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County (ADAMH) is committed to building a behavioral health workforce pipeline to reflect the rich diversity of the central Ohio community.

Bebe Moore Campbell serves as an inspiration to many for fiercely supporting her daughter who battled mental illness. This led to the founding of NAMI-Inglewood in a predominately African- American neighborhood in Los Angeles County, California to create a safe space for residents to talk about mental health.

Our communities need more safe spaces to talk about mental health, especially among minority populations. In Franklin County we are fortunate to have incubated the Black Community Ambassadors Support Program. Established in partnership with ADAMH just prior to the pandemic in early 2020, the program provides much-needed support, not only to Black mental health professionals but also to community organizers on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement seeking justice for racial inequities.

Sadly, inequities also exist within the behavioral healthcare system. The next and most challenging step, for all of us, is to find the courage to emulate Bebe Moore Campbell and make systemic changes to our industry that ensures equitable and accessible behavioral healthcare for all persons.