May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Does this include the African-American Community?

The idea of May being a Mental Health Month started in 1949 with a great deal of support and encouragement from a man named Clifford Beers. He had experienced a mental illness and was hospitalized and eventually experienced recovery. In his book “A Mind that Found Itself”, his journey to wellness is recorded. At that time, he found mental health services lacking and needed improvement. The idea of mental health month was to increase awareness and offer information to the general public regarding mental health issues.

Why do you ask, is this still needed today, since one can hardly turn on the television or read a newspaper where someone is not discussing the issue of mental health, from government officials and political figures to athletes and actors, everyone seems to be discussing the issue of mental health. Has this increased understanding of mental health issues reached the African-American communities? A quick review of current statistics shows that a great deal of mental health support is needed in communities of color.

The African American community is 13.4% of the US population, and of that population, over 16% reported having a mental illness in the past year. That is over 7 million people. This number will increase if you add to that information from the past two years during the recent Covid pandemic; there has been an increase in the severity of depression and anxiety in these communities. We have seen an alarming rise in the rate of suicide and suicide attempts among African-American young men. This increase needs to be addressed immediately.

Since the pandemic, more people have been talking about mental health. An increasing number of people are starting to see it for what it is: A critical component of your overall health and well-being, just like your physical health issues. However, several people in communities of color feel that mental health resources and conversations are still challenging. The lack of essential services for mental health conditions often seems out of their reach.

Several factors influence the utilization of mental health services by the African-American community. Historical dehumanization, oppression, and violence against African-Americans have evolved into present-day structural, institutional, and individual racism. These issues have created a myriad of disparities, including poor access to care in the healthcare system. These disparities have been continually reported during the pandemic. Processing and dealing with layers of individual trauma along with continued news of mass trauma during the pandemic, including but not limited to police brutality, and the continuous media coverage of this brutality enhances the divisive political rhetoric that adds to these layers of trauma for African-American individuals who need to manage these issues daily.

Help-seeking is affected by mistrust of the medical system and often begins with reaching out to faith-based communities. While some studies show that African-Americans who screen positive for depression are seeking help at a higher rate than the general population, providers of color who can offer more appropriate and effective care make up a small percentage of behavioral health providers in the workforce. This issue with compounded problems of race base trauma often increases the fact that mental health problems for this population of color can become more chronic and persistent due to these issues.

The response to the stated question is a resounding YES there is a need for further understanding and information regarding mental health issues in the African-American community. It is essential to understand that this information should be delivered in a culturally sensitive way that includes utilizing specific organizations that focus on Black mental health and healing. One such organization is the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective: BEAM. This organization focuses on mental health and healing justice. It offers African-American communities’ information and support in navigating complex mental health systems and obtaining appropriate healing and recovery. Several organizations provide safe spaces for African-Americans to discuss their mental health issues and their trauma related to institutional and structural racism.

Check out the websites listed below for organizations where you can gain additional information and understanding of mental health in the African-American community.

• Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective: BEAM

• African American Health – Black Community Mental Health

• Safe Black Space:

Black History Month and the Achievements of African-Americans in the Area of Public and Behavioral Health

By: Roberta Sanders, BSN, LMSW
February 9, 2021 11:0 am PST

Pioneers and Unsung Heroes of Behavioral Health who work against all odds.

In Black history month we certainly want to celebrate the numerous African Americans who have worked to improve the behavioral health of all Americans and in order to do that we would like to celebrate the following Professionals some well-known and others who have worked for years to improve behavioral health for African American and other minority populations.

Kenneth Clark, M.D., the first black president of the American psychological Association. Dr. Clark worked on the study famously known as the “DOLL STUDY” that provided valuable evidence in favor of ending school segregation in the Supreme Court case “Brown vs. the Board of Education”. This study helped to prove that school segregation was psychologically harmful to black children.

James P Comer M.D., MPH, is a professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine in the Child Study Center at New Haven Connecticut. He is known nationally and internationally for his creation of the Comer School Development program in 1968, within Yale university school of medicine, which focused on improving school restructuring, in order to improve overall student success. He is the co-founder and past president of the Black Psychiatrist of America and has received over 48 honorary degrees. 

Jennifer Eberhardt, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and is an expert on the consequence of the psychological association between race and crime. She has done extensive research on the topic of implicit bias, criminal justice and the education system. Her work has provided the evidence needed to educate law enforcement officers in the area of implicit bias training.

M. Joycelyn Elders, M.D., she was the first African American and second woman to be sworn in as the Surgeon General of the United States, during her tenure as Surgeon General, Dr. Elder advocated for universal health coverage, and comprehensive health education including sex education in the schools. While she was only Surgeon General for 15 months and was asked to resign. Following this, she continued to work to address minority health issues particularly when she was appointed by then Governor Clinton to the Arkansas Department of Health. While there, she focused on improving minority health which led to the establishment of the Office of Minority Health within the Arkansas Department of Health.  

In more recent years we continue to have black pioneers in mental health.

Bebe Moore, an African American, author, journalist, teacher and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the black community and other underrepresented groups. She founded a Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Inglewood California, a predominantly black neighborhood, in order to create a space that was safe for black people to talk about mental health concerns.

 Altha Stewart, M.D., is a key member of the national network to eliminate disparities in behavioral health and participated on their Steering Committee. She is a nationally recognized expert in the public sector on issues of mental health care for minority populations and  the effects of trauma and violence on African American children. In May 2018, Dr. Stuart made history as she began her term as president of the American psychiatric Association making her the first African American to lead that organization.

 Gayle Porter, PsyD, is the co-developer and trainer of the award-winning Prime-Time Sister Circle, with Marilyn Gaston M.D, former Assistant Surgeon General. This program is a theory- driven, empirically supported behavioral health intervention that is geared for middle-age African American women. This course-based intervention is an integrated model that focuses on emotional health and risk and promotes positive healthy decision-making and establishing social supports.

Howard Stevenson, PhD, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative, and the Forward Promise Program. Within this program, he is the developer and trainer of a program that addresses the impact of trauma and chronic stress on African American boys. The program has been shown to improve school attendance and reduce suspension rates and improve relationships among African American youth their peers and their teachers.

These are just a few of the unsung heroes who have worked in the past and continue to work currently in improving behavioral health for African Americans and communities of color. These persons and thousands of other African Americans, who work daily in mental health institutions in the role of attendance, and nursing assistant staff. This staff support the professional behavioral health personnel and offer day-to-day care for a significant number of African American behavioral health clients, without their ongoing and continuous support and  services for these clients daily the services for this client group, would be difficult to endure. 


By: Roberta Sanders, BSN, LMSW
February 12, 2020 11:02 am PST

The month of February is the month when we honor and celebrate the achievements of  African-Americans and recognize their important role in a number of areas central to the history of the United States. A number of names that are readily recognizable during Black history month, such as  Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Justice Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier - all who worked to  advance the Civil right of African-Americans.  This group and thousands more have found a permanent place in the history of America.

However I would like to share with you a few names that may not be as recognizable who've also had profound influence on the development of public health and behavioral health awareness throughout the nation. While  these are not household names, they have had a significant historical role in moving forward both public health and behavioral health policy.

Solomon Carter Fuller, M.D.  (1872-1953) This pioneering African-American psychiatrist made significant contributions to the study of the disease of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Fuller was one of the first known black psychiatrist that worked alongside Dr.Alois Alzheimer who first discover the traits of the disease in 1901.

Maxie Clarence Maultsby Jr. M.D. (1932-2016) Dr. Maultsby  is the founder of the psychotherapeutic method, rational behavioral therapy. Through his work he explored the emotional and behavioral self management and how these tools could be used as a therapeutic method to assist in the field of behavioral health. He authored four  pioneering books for behavioral  health professionals  his writings describe this method of emotional self-help known as rational self counseling.

Mamie Phipps Clark, Ph,D (1917-1983) Mamie Phipps Clark , was the first African-American woman to earn her doctorate degree in psychology from Columbia University .Her groundbreaking research on the impact of race in child development help  to end legal segregation and influence desegregation efforts including The supreme court decision rendered in the case of  Brown versus the Board of Education in 1954. Her dedication and passion for adequate mental health services for all, prompted Dr Clark to  open her own agency to provide comprehensive psychological services to the poor black and other minority children and families. In February 1946 Dr. Clark and her husband open the doors of "The  Northside center for child development” for those in Harlem New York.

Paul Bertau Cornely, M.D., DrPH (1906-2002)  In 1939 Dr. Conley was the founder of the national student health Association and president of the physicians Forum in 1954. Dr. Cornely was the founder and first president of the district of Columbia  public health association in 1962. His life work focused on the development of public health initiatives that aimed at reducing healthcare disparities among the chronically underserved. He  made significant contributions to the civil rights movement through his efforts to  desegregate health care  facilities across the United States.

David Sarcher M.D. The 16th surgeon general of the United States. He has held numerous positions including United States secretary of health, Sacher served as president of Meharry Medical College in Nashville Tennessee from 1982 to 1963 he also held positions at the Center for Disease Control  and Prevention. During his time as the Surgeon General of the United  States  he worked tirelessly to eliminate healthcare disparities among the chronically underserved, because of race or mental illness. He authored a surgeon general reports outlining the disparities in terms of physical health services for mental health clients, indicating that mental health clients were dying 25 years earlier than their cohort group of preventable illnesses, due to these disparities.          

While  this is just a short list of the many African-Americans who have contributed to the health and welfare of all Americans, they had specific influence in assisting and improving the health care of both behavioral health clients and African-Americans throughout the country. We wish to salute them and offer a thank you and appreciation for their work some who are continuing to work on healthcare disparities in the United States.

During Black history month learn more about all of the African-American pioneers who have worked tirelessly to improve behavioral health for all Americans.

Suicide: How this is affecting youth in the African-American community

By: Roberta Sanders, BSN, LMSW
January 7, 2020 2:17pm PST

We understand that September is Suicide Prevention month, however given some alarming statistics we decided to focus on youth suicide in the African-American community. According to the American Association of Suicidology, they believe that we should focus on suicide prevention every day. That is especially true regarding youth in the African-American community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service organization known as SAMHSA and The Journal Community Health, states the suicide rate for African-American girls age 13 to 19 nearly doubled and the rate for African-American boys rose 60% from 2001 to 2017.

These statistics speak to a public health crisis. One thing that we need to be aware of and understand that suicide is preventable. According to DeQuincy Levine PhD, a community suicide prevention expert and the recipient of the SAMHSA VOICE AWARD, he believes that we learn from crisis and we can utilize the suicide crisis in the African-American community to develop programs and to move to meaningful action.

There is no question that this is a crisis in the African-American community. What are the steps that we need to take as mental health professionals as we deal with this crisis? We are aware that September is suicide prevention month, however beginning now we have a great opportunity to plan for some active community events to increase the awareness of suicide in the African-American community.

The good news is that we already have a number of active programs that can assist with suicide prevention. Working with the community education systems, we can recommend that all teachers have an opportunity to complete the eight hour Mental Health Aid class that helps non mental health professionals, understand various mental health issues including depression and suicide. This training is also important for other community support services where Staff interact with adolescents and young adults on a regular basis.

Now you ask , what is it that you can do to get involved with suicide prevention?

Understanding the warning signs is a way to start. We know that four out of five teens who attempt suicide give clear warning signs:

  • Suicide threats
  • Signs of depression
  • Exhibiting anger and increased irritability
  • Sudden increase or decrease in appetite
  • Decrease in their academic performance
  • Preoccupation with death and suicide and previous suicide attempts are all warning signs

Along with these warning signs, we need to consider any risk factors that might impact this particular youth. Suicide does not typically have a sudden onset. There are a number of stressors that can contribute to anxiety and unhappiness,which can increase the possibility of a suicide attempt.

Some of these risk factors are:

  • Increased depression, mental illness and substance use
  • Difficult home environment including death , divorce or separation from a parent or significant family member
  • School environment where the youth feels teachers are not understanding of their issues and are not supporting them with their difficulties
  • A previous suicide attempts is a significant risk factor for all youth
  • A situational crisis where the youth has lost a significant relationship can increase the risk of suicide

As we understand more about these risk and warning signs regarding suicide awareness, it can help our programs to better assist in helping our African-American clients and the overall community increase their suicide awareness.

Suicide awareness is linked to suicide prevention as both addressed suicide education and the dissemination of that information to the broader community.

We have about eight months to begin to plan and identify specific educational activities that our organizations could host in September. You have a great opportunity on March 20, 2020 to hear firsthand from DeQuincy Levine, PhD a Community suicide prevention expert. He will be the keynote speaker for our continuing educational presentation regarding the African-American community. Go to our African American Training and Technical Assistance website to register for what will be an informative training and will offer us many insights as to how we can plan for meaningful programs in our organizations for suicide prevention month in September.

Suicide is preventable, with community awareness and education we could all have a role in decreasing the rate of suicide for African-American youth.

African Americans in Holiday Stress and Depression
By: Roberta Sanders, BSN, LMSW
December 12, 2019 11:56pm PST

We all know the holidays can be a joyful time that offers a chance to reconnect with friends and family. However  it can also be stressful. The holidays can be hectic and there never seems to be enough time to get things done. We have all heard this before.

However did you know that a study published in 2018 by the Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that African-Americans and Latinos are significantly more likely to experience serious depression than Whites?

The study indicates that chronic stress among adulthood may be an important factor in depression and it may be worse among racial and ethnic minorities due to the stress experience from social and economic inequalities. The study was designed to gain a better understanding regarding the relationships between chronic stress and the chance for depression by race and ethnicity. Given some of the risk factors identified for the African-American population for stress and depression, it is important that holiday stress needs to be managed well by this population.

So now that we understand the higher risk for stress and depression for the African-American populationwhat are some of the tips you can utilize during the holidays?

Below are few Items you may want to consider:

  • Have realistic expectations and realistic goals for yourself. Don’t take on more than you can do comfortably, while maintaining your physical and behavioral health.
  • Make a list and prioritize important activities. This way you can make holiday tasks more manageable. Get organized!
  • Make a holiday budget and stick to it before you go gift and food shopping. Clearly understand the amount that you have to spend on each of these areas.

Continue to maintain your healthy habits:

  • Have healthy snacks before holiday parties
  • Get plenty of rest during the holidays
  • Incorporate some physical activity each day
  • If you’re feeling lonely, volunteer your time to help others
  • Limit your drinking since excessive drinking will only increase feelings of depression
  • Learn to say NO. Only accept tasks you can complete

Following a few of these simple tips can help you have a more enjoyable Holiday season