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Blacks are overrepresented in residential mental health facilities

4th March 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Adam Stulhman and Ann-Marie Mesquita
New america Media

HARTFORD (New American Media) — African Americans are over-represented among in-patient or residential psychiatric care facilities, according to a recent report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Connecticut mirrors this national trend.

According to the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, there are 647 (or six percent) Hispanic, 2,924, (or eight percent) white, and 1,080, (or 12 percent) African-American patients in inpatient or residential care.

Moreover, the percentage of Blacks in these facilities is almost twice that of whites in all hospitals, except private psychiatric hospitals. Experts say this trend is because of a variety of culturally influenced reasons: poverty, stigma, biases, and a lack of mental health providers, who are culturally adept with people of color. According to NAMI, which gave the nation a “D” on delivery of mental health services, these reasons are major contributing factors that hinder minorities from seeking out treatment before “symptoms become so severe that they warrant inpatient care.”

Additionally, African Americans have experienced “racist slights in their contacts with the mental health system,” according to the same 2009 NAMI report. “Some of these concerns are justified on the basis of research revealing clinician bias in over-diagnosis of schizophrenia and under-diagnosis of depression among African Americans.”

The disproportionate number of Blacks in inpatient or residential treatment is alarming because African Americans have the same rate of mental illness as whites, experts say.

Yet, African Americans are underrepresented in outpatient treatment populations but over-represented in public inpatient psychiatric care. The causal factor in the underrepresentation of Blacks in outpatient treatment is the out-of-pocket expense, or lack of employer-based managed care, the report says. Consequently, only working and middle-class Blacks, who have insurance, can afford outpatient care. However, the racial gap between African Americans’ and whites’ use of community-based programs is nonexistent because treatment is financed by public sources, especially Medicaid.

According to Zelphia Hunter, a recovery coach specialist at Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership and a coordinator of Shining Hope for Communities, the findings in the report resonates with her on a personal and professional level.

Hunter, a Hartford resident who lives with depression, said the “biases” that mental health providers have towards victims of mental illness are preventing many Blacks from getting the services they may need.

“People need to realize that they have biases,” said Hunter, “and despite the fact that they may have good intentions, mental health providers need more training on how to deal with their biases, and how these biases hinder other people from getting help. People just need to understand that this is discrimination.”

Part of breaking down these barriers, Hunter said, is to promote more cultural awareness, and through the training and hiring of more Africans and Latinos in the mental health field.

“There is not enough training in cultural sensitivity and diversity in Connecticut,” Hunter said, “We need more people of color in the mental health field.”

*Adam Stulhman and Ann-Marie Mesquita are staff writers for The Hartford Guardian.

This article originally published in the March 4, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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