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

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