On February 16, 2023, SAMHSA held a virtual round table discussion focused upon behavioral health disparities within the Black community. Moderated by Brandon Johnson, several guest speakers spoke about their personal experiences and subsequent work in reducing the stigma and taboo associated with receiving therapy in Black communities. This problem is urgent, as the Black American suicide rate has increased from 2018 to 2021. Ultimately, the panelists stressed creating a service system that is tailored towards the specific needs of the Black community.

It is imperative that the lived experience within the Black community is represented in the system, especially through the individual service providers. Speakers like Jocelyn Route discussed a mindset that she described as typical in this community. Despite her trauma, she claimed she thought of therapy as something “they did” but never an option for herself. In order to reevaluate this belief, she had to be exposed to people in her own community who were actively receiving clinical services. Therefore, as Jocelyn and other speakers emphasized, having a village of people with your same background who advocate for clinical services helps increase trust, spark transformation, and get connections to resources.

A specific resource that the panelists supported is the 988 hotline. 988 utilizes professional clinicians, mobile response teams, crisis stabilization centers, as well as inpatient and outpatient services in order to de-escalate and connect callers to resources. Since 988 does not make arrests, panelists claim the 988 hotline was better equipped to handle mental health crises and encourages more people to call for help as opposed to 911. Additionally, a big part of the discussion focused upon churches and HBCUs being transformative and educational sources in the overall village of support. Some concerns were raised about Black LGBTQ youth reaching out to churches over fear of discrimination. However, founder of Choose Healthy Life Debra Fraser-Howze, stressed that these individuals should reach out to churches that are open minded in their support, especially those working with Choose Healthy Life.

Developing a clinical workforce that is diverse and empathetic is vital in reducing behavioral health disparities in the Black community. There must be an active effort to spread awareness, reduce stigma, and educate providers and patients about available resources. By reframing the narrative around seeking help, generational cycles of trauma and mental health struggles can be mitigated.

By Olivia LaMarco, Policy Intern