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Better mental health for all
National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month brings attention to disparities in treatment

WHEN DISCUSSING the topic of health issues plaguing Americans, mental health isn’t always among the top choices for conversation.

Within many communities, the presence of mental illnesses can often be ignored and disregarded as unimportant.

This attitude should be viewed as particularly troubling in an environment where mental health issues are becoming increasingly more common across various age groups.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness, while one in five youth aged 13-18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point in their life.

For minorities, the issue of mental illness can be even greater when considering specific factors. In recognition of this, July is nationally recognized as the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to enhance public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities.

One of the primary purposes is to improve factors such as access to mental health treatment that often disproportionately affects members of specific communities.

This attention to increased awareness is important towards combating negative trends present among minorities. African-Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans in the past year and Asian-Americans at about one-third the rate.

This failure to get help is even more troubling when considering the larger implications.

Studies have shown that individuals with serious mental illnesses face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. In fact, the NAMI indicates that adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.

This implies that a prolonged mental illness can lead to higher likelihoods of diseases such as diabetes or heart disease due to the cumulative effects of factors such as diet and lifestyle choices. For many these cumulative effects could include bypassing treatment in favor of substance abuse.

Someone who has become familiar with these sorts of disparities is Teneka Gerido.

While serving as the program manager and a counselor for the Clubhouse in Savannah funded by the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities, she provides a variety of services to families with youth ages 13 to 17 who suffer from issues such as substance abuse as the result of mental illness.

In regards to the issue of limited access she says, “I think it is a deterrent for many people that say, ‘I don’t have the money for this so I’m just not going to go.’ We do service a lot of those who are below the poverty line but there are a lot of services we can connect to get somebody service.”

Gerido emphasizes that despite those issues of access and income, the biggest obstacle to treatment in many communities is the perception of the treatment itself.

“With African-Americans a lot of times there are mental health issues but we do not get treated for them because of the way it is viewed within our community.”

This common stigma would serve as a major motivation for the introduction of the minority mental health awareness month in honor of the work of Bebe Moore Campbell.

Campbell was an author, advocate, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles, and national spokesperson. Much of her life’s work was dedicated for mental health education and support among individuals of diverse communities. In 2005 she began work within communities to build support for a month that would be dedicated towards providing mental health information.

She would rally this support through holding book signings, speaking in churches and forming the National Minority Mental Health Taskforce. After succumbing to brain cancer in 2006, her work was rewarded in 2008 when the US House of Representatives announced the naming of the month in her honor.

In one 2005 statement, she managed to provide an answer to the question of mistrust in mental health treatment which now serves as the motivation for the cause.

“We need a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted towards African-Americans...It’s not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible.”

The success of treatment and recovery is largely measured by the health provider’s ability to address those cultural stigmas and allow them to dictate what kind of treatment is given. This is a perspective that Andrea Liverman is well aware of.

As a counselor at the Hope Counseling Center of Savannah, Liverman utilizes a variety of methods such as psychotherapy and child social skills groups that are intended to provide patients with the best treatment possible. In many cases this simply means being open to fair discussions.

“We want to make sure that they feel supported and that we are listening to them. We need to show that we care about what they’re saying.”

This sort of open communication will continue to help to erase the negative stigma associated with mental health treatment across America which could begin to change more lives and in many cases save them.