How The Mental Health System Is Failing Minorities

iStock_000009898060XSmallI’ve wrote a bit about how the mental health system is failing those who need it most and a lot of those people are usually poor and/or minorities.

Working in an inner-city area I’ve always been valued as a licensed mental health counselor able to diagnose and treat a wide array of mental issues and refer clients who needed more attention, testing or medication to people and places able to provide those services.

Sometimes I didn’t quite appreciate or understand the praises I got from other school administrators, faculty even clients and their families. To me I was just doing my job, but to them, at times I was seen as a hero.

It wasn’t until recently that I actually thought about this. Within the past year two crucial agencies pulled out of the school because of lack of funding. These two services provided mental health counseling to the students who needed it three days out of the week while I was there everyday. They were not licensed and generally dealt with less severe, but no less important issues.

Because these two agencies are no longer on campus, this year my case load exploded to way more then I could handle by myself, but I had no choice but to try to handle it the best I could which at times wasn’t always that great. I was overwhelmed, underpaid and under appreciated by the agency I work for, but very much appreciated by the school, students and families I served.

To make things worse, I may not be at the school after the end of this month because funding is being cut from my agency as well.

While to me it is ultra important that these kids and families receive my services, like I wrote in my previous post, it boils down to money over actual quality of care.

It was then that I started realizing that there weren’t many options for those in inner-city communities who need mental health services, largely because poor and minority people with mental illnesses are more neglected and inner-city communities receive less funding which is one reason the two agencies I mentioned above pulled out of the school I work at, they lost some of their funding.

A lot of the funding that comes for mental health servies in inner-city communities is based on grants, and grants come and go very easily, often doing great work in a community for a couple of years and then leaving them without any support.

With that being said, it’s really hard for the kids I work with and their parents to receive quality mental health services in their community.

Many of them end up getting services through the jail or prison or are involved with child protective services which is where many of them end up because they have issues such as uncontrollable behavior that haven’t been addressed, but this creates a host of other problems due to the stigma that comes with it and because it eternalizes a racial stereotype that this is where Black people end up.

However, once these people are no longer incarcerated or receiving services through child protection services, without support, most will regress back to their previous mental states and behaviors. Only about 33% of African Americans suffering from a mental illness are retrieving proper treatment.

Because of this neglect, there isn’t much research on treating minorities with mental disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse and others conditions.

Yes, it is true that for the most part, there is little to no difference in these disorders across races or socio-economic statuses, but there are cultural and social differences that play major roles in properly treating these disorders.

African Americans have been ignored for decades when it comes to mental health. Before the 1960s, it was believed that African Americans could not get bipolar disorder or depression for example. It wasn’t until 2001 when former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, who is African American, released Culture, Race and Ethnicity. A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, which brought the disparities into national light.

Working with minorities from African Americans, Haitians, Latinos and Asians, I know that culture plays a large role in who and how individuals receive mental health services.

Some cultures are very private and trying to get the whole family together for a session can be almost impossible, while others, especially African Americans, seem to be more suspicious of the mental health system in general and are more likely to stop treatment early without any follow up and to not follow through on medication recommendations.

Because of this distrust, many will turn to a friend, then their pastor, and then their general doctor before finally turning to a mental health professional for help with a disorder.

Because of all these issues, I see why my role within the school I work with is seen as so important. I am able to bond with the students and give them and their families services that they may not otherwise receive.

On top of that, I think I am helping to remove some of the stigma associated with getting help for a mental health problem.

Many of my minority clients, when I first meet with them automatically tell me that they are not going to take any medication or go to the mental hospital, as if that’s all those who work in the mental health field do, medicate people or hospitalize them.

Through getting to know me, they realize that I just want to help them get through whatever is bothering them and I have no plot to medicate them or put them in a mental hospital unless it is absolutely necessary.

One of the students told me last week when I told her I wasn’t sure if I would be back next school year that, “If you are not here, there will be more kids going crazy, more people fighting and using drugs”. That thought saddened me. I even thought about volunteering some of my time to the students if at all possible.

I am not a hero, I am really just doing my job and doing what I feel called to do, but I see that without my services being conveniently offered on campus where students and their families can easily access them, there isn’t much else around. Unlike in more oppulent areas, there aren’t any private facilities with modern technology. There’s nothing.

So yes, the mental health system is failing most people who truly need it, especially minorities and poor people who are largely ignored and underserved including teenagers just trying to survive in a violent, crime ridden neighborhood at an inner-city school that serves as their haven away from their broken homes and communities.

Is It Okay To Use Different Academic Standards Based on a Students Race?

I was honestly shocked the other day when on the local news I saw a report that the Florida Board of Education, just passed a new race-based standards of academic acceptance which will affect all of the 2.6 million students that are in the state’s public school system.

I was shocked because I don’t remember hearing about this, and yet it has passed. Apparently there was no vote on this from the public and I was even more shocked to hear what the standards are.

The new academic standard says that by 2018, 90% of Asian students, 88% of white students, 81% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students are to be reading at or above grade level.

It also states that 92% of Asian students, 86% of white students, 80% of Hispanic students and 74% of black students will be at or above their math grade level.

Really?

Now some people will say that this is a part of Affirmative Action, but I’d like to argue against that. This is part of goals required from Florida’s waiver of No Child Left Behind. State officials say that these new standards take into account the performance numbers of current students of color.

I say that this is a way the state can take the blame away from where it really should be, and that is on failing schools, inequality of schools and teachers in different communities, poor teachers, bad parenting and failing community services and supports.

It is unconscionable to me that we would expect less of a child based on his or her race/ethnicity. All kids have the ability to learn regardless of race or ethnicity.

It is true that often things such as socio-economic status and parental educational background have a lot to do with a child’s academic performance, exposure and experiences, but to dumb down the expectations of a child based on their race/ethnicity is really backwards.

And where is Florida getting this idea from? Virginia! No offense to Virginians, but Florida is following in Virginia’s footsteps when it comes to educating their students. Some say it’s so that black and Hispanic children won’t feel bad when they don’t perform as well as their white and Asian counterparts. Really?

When I was in high school I had to pass a competency exam to graduate, my race/ethnicity played no part in this. I was expected to get the same passing score as everyone. They same went for the exit exams I took in undergrad and graduate school.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush even said that this would send a “devastating message” that Hispanic and black students aren’t as capable as other students.

Palm Beach County School Board Vice-Chair Debra Robinson said she’s “somewhere between complete and utter disgust and anger and disappointment with humanity” because of this.

We do a disservice to our kids when we are basing academic standards on race/ethnicity. We will be placing a black mark on the high school diplomas of every black and Hispanic child.

It would be better to track students individually and not group them by race/ethnicity, but that would cost the state too much, so it’s easier to just make generalized, in my opinion, racist academic standards of achievement.

A long time ago I read a book called The Bell Curve and thought it was the most racist piece of garbage I had ever read. It was largely about whites intellectual superiority over blacks. This isn’t much different.

How can black and Hispanic children feel good about their academic achievements if they are held to a lesser standard, especially in elementary, middle and high school where these poor standards are setting them up for future failure?

In elementary school I always made the honor role until one day I got a “C” and cried. My teacher consoled me by saying “C’s are good for a boy”. After that day, I never made the honor role again until the 11th grade. I was happy with “C’s” and it was only until the end of my sophomore year in high school that I started making all A’s and B’s again.

What changed? I did, not the academic standards, or even the school or teachers, but me.

I learned that “A” stood for excellent, “B” for good, “C” for average, “D” for poor and “F” for failure. I told myself I was above average and aimed to never get below a “B” and from that point on in high school, through undergrad and graduate school, I didn’t.

With Affirmative Action, yes it helps minority students get into college with lower exam scores than whites and Asians, but once in college they are expected to keep up or get out. There’s a difference between that and this.

If we tell our kids it’s okay to be below average because of your race/ethnicity, I think it will have the same affects. Kids won’t try harder, they will accept poor performance as “good for my race/ethnicity”.

Those black/Hispanic kids that are high achievers, will never feel the pride they should feel.

We already have a problem with black/Hispanic kids being stereotyped as “not as good as” whites and Asians, but this is almost like making it official.

We all learn differently and EXPOSURE and EXPECTATION go a long way to defining a child’s self-efficacy. This is not the way of solving a problem, but creating one we all will have to deal with in the future.

Politicians are always saying that they want our nation to be at the top when it comes to math and science, but I guess that doesn’t apply if you are black/Hispanic. We should be encouraging, educating and encouraging all students, regardless of race/ethnicity, to do their absolute best, and not a percentage of what is considered the absolute best.

edit: My 16 year old niece, who is black and attends a predominately black school, just got accepted into the National Honor Society for having a grade point average of or above a 3.5. Imagine if the criteria for the National Honor Society was lowered for her just because she was black. I doubt she would have the same sense of pride and accomplishment she has today.