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July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and on the 17th, the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County released a report on mental health care disparities commissioned by the California Department of Mental Health.

The key takeaway: poverty, racism, and stigma are preventing African-American Californians from accessing needed mental health services at the same level as their Caucasian counterparts.

KQED’s excellent State of Health series has a thoughtful story on the new report that recaps its suggestions for how to turn the tide:

 For starters, more black providers are urgently needed. African-Americans make up 13 percent of the U.S. population but are only two percent of all psychologists, according to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report.

The study also suggests incorporating group therapy sessions for some black patients. [Study author Diane] Woods says many of the study participants didn’t like the standard one-on-one model of mental health care. They preferred a community model, because black culture, she said, embraces a broad idea of family.

One of our California-based Schweitzer Fellows this year is working to expand access to — and break down stigma surrounding — mental health care services in low-income communities. Other Schweitzer Fellows in other program locations have also worked to find and assist clients who are living with mental or behavioral health conditions and are having trouble accessing the care they need. Studies like these inform these Fellows’ and other mental health workers’ efforts specifically — and they also underscore the overarching importance of cultural competence and an understanding of the social determinants of health when working to address mental health (or any health) issues.

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