mental health

Pandemic Shines Light on Racial Inequities in Mental Health Care

NBC Universal, Inc.

As the pandemic continues, it’s shining a light on racial disparities across the country, including the barriers that keep some Black men and women from accessing quality mental health care. 

Dr. Erica Richards at Sibley Memorial Hospital said stigma and a fear of being seen as weak are keeping many from seeking treatment. For communities of color, she said it’s really been a “double hit.” 

“Overall rates in Black and African American communities of mental health mirror those of other races, but we also see that African Americans are only half as likely to seek help,” Richards said. 

In 2015, the late News4 anchor Jim Vance shared his battle with depression and drug addiction with News4’s Doreen Gentzler, hoping his story could help others who may be suffering in silence.

“If I can be a glimmer of light just for one person, just by acknowledging I’m all screwed up but I’m cool with it now, then, I’ll be very happy," Vance said. "I’ll be eternally grateful for that."

D.C. resident Kevin Dedner suffered from depression and struggled to find a provider that looked like him. That disconnect inspired him to create a startup called “Hurdle” — connecting people with culturally responsive therapists through their smartphones or computers. 

“Once we become aware of our own suffering, and we’ve suffered, then we can see that so many others are suffering, and we’re empowered to do something about it,” Dedner said.

In the U.S., only 4% of psychologists and 2% of psychiatrists are Black, while one in three Black adults who need mental health care actually receive it, according the American Psychological Association.

When it comes to having more Black people in the fields of psychiatry, psychology and therapy, Richards said the outreach has to start early.

“We have high school students now that know already they want to go to medical school. We've seen an increase in medical school applications during the pandemic. And so, people are starting to understand the importance of being able to provide these health care interventions,” Richards said. 

Richards also said that more African Americans are seeking care for mental health issues in hospitals in emergency situations instead of establishing relationships with a physician over time, which plays a big role in their treatment. 

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