The California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP) African American population recently hosted a collaborative detailing the study conducted by the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County. The grassroots organization was awarded a financial contract to conduct the California Reducing Disparities Project for the African American population. The funding was made available through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) of 2004. The contract period was two years, from March 1, 2010 to February 29, 2012. The team was looking at specific ways to reduce barriers and improve services that will address the mental health of African Americans and four other ethnic/cultural groups: Native American, LGBTQ, Asian Pacific Islander, and Latino.
They were to conduct strategic planning workshops that were population specific, then look at ways of integrating the individual approaches into a working collaborative. These five underserved communities have the largest numbers of underserved individuals.
The team was led by principal investigator Dr. V. Diane Woods, CEO of the African American Health Institute. Although the grassroots organization is located in San Bernardino County, the CRDP is a statewide initiative.
The team members met last week at the Metropolitan Water District building, and presented the facts of the two-year study to Obama Administration official Acacia Bamberg Salatti, Deputy Director Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services. She stated the goal of her department is putting together healthier communities, and healthier congregations. Mental health issues are stigmatized in our communities and we don’t talk about those issues.
Other CRDP members speaking included Sandra Poole, MPA, Assistant Director of the Racial & Ethnic Mental Heath Disparities Coalition in Sacramento. Each participant had ten minutes to present their facts and findings. The primary goal of her organization overlap those of CRDP; they also work with non-English and limited English-speaking individuals, immigrant, refugee and Muslim communities.
During the two-year study the group met with and interviewed almost 2,000 individuals; a large percentile of the focus group felt African Americans were more prone to mental illnesses than other ethnicities. Males are more likely to suffer silently, while females suffer more from depression, but they are more likely to go to a faith-based intervener.
Dr. Carolyn Murry, CRDP psychologist, UC Riverside, explained the differences between the men and women seeking treatment. Most of the men are locked up; that is one of the avenues for receiving the help they are in need of. She also shared stats on the tracking of children in schools, the medication that reduces them to zombies and the impoverished conditions they live in are all contributors to mental imbalances that escalate over time; 50% of Black males are not graduating--they have already counted themselves out.
The respondees included incarcerated, homeless and those on the periphery, including the lesbian/transgender population.
Jim Gilmer, a minister, represented the faith-based community, and tied spirituality to the social disparities we suffer on a daily basis, adding that alternative therapies include ethnic-specific prayer, community-based clinics, and herbal or deep level healing. He stated that having a supportive church family to support you can definitely have a very positive effect on a person being made whole, spirit, soul and body. However, it is not a one-size fits all concept; ethnic preferences must be applicable.
The state of California is looking at incorporating ethnic-specific spirituality into their mental health issues, according to Dr. Woods.
CRDP member General Jeff from Skid Row stated that since the 1980s when the crack epidemic struck 45.3% of the residents are African American. Although there is a strong spiritual connection many of the residents are not ready to deal with the methodology used by many in the faith-based community that currently serves the population. Sometimes the people just want food and a safe place to sleep; they are not ready to fill out tons of paperwork. With no federal oversight, the agencies receiving funding are following the popular trickle-down philosophy, and the so-called solutions are too cookie-cut. The people have nothing to do daily so it’s easy to go have a drink and hang out. He has been working with the population for five years on a shoestring budget. During that time he has established basketball, photography, theater groups to help the residents gain a modicum of self-respect, and could serve as a national model for dealing with the homeless populations that cities, counties and states are bewildered with.
Dr. Nikki King, Ph.D., CRDP Policy Analyst from UC Davis, also serves as a caregiver for a family member in the mental health system. The focus group she worked with contained 260 participants that ranged in age from 17-81 years, all self-identified as having African American or African heritage. One of the core responses that most of the leaders shared was that the respondees wanted more African American mental health providers; they did not feel comfortable with people who had already prejudged them. Only 3% indicated a preference for Caucasian mental heath providers.
Sharon Yates from the Urban League had to learn mental health tactics to help rescue her daughter from a downward spiral despite having had intervention from a professional service provider. We are not fully aware what is happening behind the scenes; young people not finishing high school are no longer accepted into the military, all the fine arts programs have been removed from high schools. When the youth are expelled from school, all they do is sit around and watch television.
Dr. Woods told Ms. Salatti we have captured the spirit of the people. Respect is high on the agenda for both African and African American populations. Black psychologists working with the marginalized communities are looking for funding that enables them to expand the programs already in place within the communities. They are looking for ways the administration can partner with neighborhood projects that are working with adequate funding. Echoing General Jeff, the money does not trickle down to those organizations; $5,000 to $10,000 per year is not adequate to do the work needed.
Acacia Bamberg Salatti stated that the department she is with does not give grants, when they speak about partnerships they can connect the grassroots organizations with people who can undergird their practices. And they can follow up.
General Jeff came back with a last statement chronicling the high level of mistrust among many African Americans. He asked ms. Salatti if the information provided by the population he works with will be safeguarded from those who would use it to literally rape the community without providing any quality follow-up care. Ms Salatti responded that she is planning to write a White House White Paper about the information she received, and the fact that alternative modalities should be included.
Woods explained the title “We Ain’t Crazy” was a response to the common idiom that health care providers think of all Black people as being crazy. One recurring theme was there are many grassroots operated by Black people that are not receiving funding to enable them to stay engaged in the marginalized communities.
An additional meeting on July 17 was held at the Westin Airport Hotel at the 44th Association of Black Psychologists annual international convention, where CRDP held a workshop, town hall meeting and press conference to get the findings in the limelight.