Why Should There Be More Black Mental Health Workers?
Thu, September 29, 2022

Why Should There Be More Black Mental Health Workers?



Kai Koerber—who grew up in the South—experienced racial threats and police violence on a regular basis, shaping the way he relates with his surroundings, reported Yuki Noguchi of the National Public Radio, an American media organization.

Koerber meditates to cope with stress and after a gunman shot 17 people when he was 16—one of which was his friend— he started to seek mental health support from a therapist. The therapist empathized with the young man’s trauma. According to Koerber, finding a Black therapist saved his time, citing more connection when it came to the struggles that he might feel or the ways he might think about different scenarios.


Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers

In a 2015 APA Survey of Psychology Health Service Providers by Auntre Hamp and colleagues, it was found that the types of doctoral degree white females have were Ph.D. (50%), PsyD (55%), and EdD (31%). For racial/ethnic minority females, the numbers were 8% for PhD, 11% for PsyD, and 5% for EdD. The types of doctoral degree white males had the most were EdD (57%) followed by Ph.D. (37%), and PsyD (28%). A smaller proportion of racial/ethnic minority males had Ph.D. (4%), PsyD (5%), and EdD (8%) types of doctoral degrees.

Regarding primary employment characteristics, 45% worked in private practice, 24% worked in hospital and organized human service settings, education settings (19%), and other settings (12%). Regarding employment arrangement, 49% were self-employed, 44% had salaried employment, 4% had hourly employment, 3% had others. 54% of white females were self-employed, along with having salaried employment (50%), hourly employment (53%), and other (53%).

White males were mostly self-employed (36%) followed by salaried employment (34%), hourly employment (36%), and other (30%). Racial/ethnic minority females had salaried employment (10%) and other (10%). A smaller percentage of this group were self-employed (7%) or had hourly employment (9%). For racial/ethnic minority males, only 3% were self-employed and 2% had hourly employment. 6% had salaried employment or other.

Regarding primary employment settings, 53% of white females worked in hospital settings, in a four-year college (47%), government settings (39%), and business settings (38%). White males mostly worked in business settings (44%) followed by government settings (40%), hospital settings (35%), and in a four-year college (27%).



Minority females were known to work in a four-year college (18%), government settings (14%), business settings (13%), and hospital settings (8%). For minority males, they worked in a four-year college (8%), government settings (8%), business settings (5%), and hospital settings (3%).  On the other hand, the areas in which psychologists showed interest in taking further geropsychology specialized opportunities were adjusting to medical illness/disability (57%), depression (54%), bereavement/grief (52%), dementia (47%), anxiety (41%), psychotherapy (38%), and caregiver stress (37%).

Shared waiting room space (50.4%) was the most common way of working with other health professionals along with using the same electronic medical record (39.2%), participating in multidisciplinary team meetings (36.2%), and sharing a clinical working space (35%). Other collaborative care activities were using integrated treatment plans (33.3%), having joint sessions (same time and room) with patients/clients and providers from various disciplines (19%), and participating in joint clinical research (13.2%).



The Repercussions of Racism

Black Americans particularly need more access to mental health support, according to people who study and experience the burden of racism. Unfortunately, accessing mental health support is more difficult. Dr. Rhea Boyd, a Bay Area pediatrician who studies the effects of police violence, said members of the Black community “feel emotionally raw and tapped out. She commented, “We haven't been asked to publicly bear our pain as frequently as we are now, and we haven't had to witness other Black folks publicly baring their pain about it as frequently as we are now.”

The effects of racism have shaped the minds and psyche of young people, particularly with the increasing rates of suicide among teen and preteen Black girls. Getting mental health support is a great move, but failing to meet that need is not, stated Dr. Ruth Shim, a psychiatrist at the University of California at Davis. Dr. Shim cited that the American system has abused African-Americans for generations, including forced experimentations and placing Black civil rights activists to mental institutions.



The Need for More Black Mental Health Professionals

Sherry Davis Molock, an associate professor of psychology at George Washington University, in Washington D.C., said, “There's an assumption that all people express symptoms of depression the same, but some culture groups express symptoms differently,” quoted Serena Gordon of Medical Xpress, a website that publishes news on health and advances in medical research.

Depression is generally defined as someone who lost interest in the activities they used to enjoy and having a sad mood for at least two weeks. Bur for Black and Asian communities, depressive symptoms include headache and digestive issues.  Such differences could entail that fewer people are getting diagnosed with the early signs of mental illness.

Moreover, the stigma of mental illness hinders people of color from seeking mental health care. Further, back people traditionally sought care through church or their families. However, as society becomes more mobile, people may not be as connected to family members or church—meaning the traditional methods of seeking care may not be enough nowadays, Molock commented.

David Fakunle, an associate faculty member in mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, emphasized the need for more Black mental health professionals to make it easier for the Black community to get help. Fakunle also acknowledged that this problem is not only present among the African-American community. In fact, it is also crucial to encourage more diversity in mental health care for every race and ethnicity. Black Americans are known for their resiliency, said Molock and Fakunle.

“We have survived what would appear to be insurmountable odds, and yet somehow find ways to find joy,” Molock stated. However, being resilient might also discourage Black people from getting help. Fakunle agreed, citing resiliency as a crutch for individuals to not have their mental well-being checked. He said, “We think, we've dealt with so much already, how can we have mental health issues?” Black people have learned to be resilient and to endure hardships, but they are also affected by the constant trauma and stress of being a Black American, Fakunle stated.  

More Black mental health professionals are needed to cater to the needs of Black patients. Black people are known for their resiliency, but this remarkable trait stops them from addressing mental health issues. Overall, mental health care needs to be more diverse as every person—regardless of their race and ethnicity—has the right to seek help.