Category Archives: race and mental health

Indigenous Americans, youth, and mental health.

Indigenous/tribal communities face significant behavioral health challenges and disparities. For Indigenous Americans, multiple factors influence health outcomes, including historical trauma and a range of social, policy, and economic conditions such as poverty, under-employment, lack of access to health care, lower educational attainment, housing problems, and violence.

These disparities have important consequences. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Native American youth ages 8 to 24. Also, while there is general awareness that Native Americans experience higher rates of alcohol and substance use, the scope of these behavioral health problems is not fully understood.

With 564 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN, is the designation currently used by the Census Bureau) tribes, 100 state recognized tribes, and over 200 languages, there is a great need for the development of mental health programs aimed at AI/ANs that center culture as a dominant aspect of treatment. The deficit in culturally relevant treatment programs aimed at Indigenous Americans people living with mental illness is glaring. These communities cope with intergenerational trauma which has a historical context, occurring when exposure to trauma takes place in an earlier generation and continues to affect subsequent generations. The stress of intergenerational trauma contributes to the erosion of family structure, tribal structure and even spiritual ties. It can affect one’s identity, relationship skills, personal behavior, transmission of traditions and values, and attitudes and beliefs about the future. The stress of these traumas combined with the complex and ongoing mistreatment of AI/AN citizens contributes to the rates of mental illness in AI/AN communities and can manifest in a high rate of substance abuse disorder, PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Additional stressors such as a lack of access to health insurance, pervasive poverty and unemployment, and higher suicide rates exacerbate these issues.

I have compiled this list of resources for indigenous clients. Please note that the hours of availability may have changed, but they are all in service at the present time.

Mental Health Resources For Native And Indigenous Communities:
–  Indigenous Story Studio creates illustrations, posters, videos, and comic books on health and social issues for youth.

–  Suicide prevention.
–  National Alliance on Mental Illness.
–  One Sky Center: The American Indian/Alaska Native National Resource Center for Health, Education, and Research; mission is to improve prevention and treatment of mental health and substance use problems and services among Native people.
–  WeRNative: a comprehensive health resource for Native youth by Native youth, promoting holistic health and positive growth in local communities.
–  Ask Auntie: similar to an advice column – type in your question and it will pull up similar ones; if none answer what you’re asking, Auntie Amanda will write up an answer and notify you when it is posted.
–  StrongHearts Native Helpline: The StrongHearts Native Helpline (1-844-762-8483) is a confidential and anonymous culturally-appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT.

How to help a loved one who is having mental health problems

We all go through tough times and people help us through them. Other times we have been worried about other people’s mental health. Whether they are a friend, family member, significant other, neighbor, or colleague, there are many ways to support somebody you care about.

1 in 6 people experienced a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression in the past week.

Talking about mental health
If you are worried about someone it can be difficult to know what to do. When you are aware there is an issue, it is important not to wait. One of the saddest components of depression is that it is immobilizing. You can simultaneously know that you desperately need help, and have absolutely no energy or desire to seek it.

Waiting and hoping others will come to you for help might lose valuable time in getting them support. Openly talking with someone is often the first step to take when you know they are going through a hard time. This way you can find out what is troubling them and what you can do to help.

Eight tips for talking about mental health:

  1. Set time aside with no distractions. It is important to provide an open and non-judgemental space.
  2. Let them share as much or as little as they want to. Let them lead the discussion at their own pace. Don’t put pressure on them to tell you anything they aren’t ready to talk about. Talking can take a lot of trust and courage. You might be the first person they have been able to talk to about this.
  3. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings. You probably aren’t a medical expert and, while you may be happy to talk and offer support, you aren’t a trained counsellor. Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your own diagnosis or solutions.
  4. Keep questions open ended. Say “Why don’t you tell me how you are feeling?” rather than “I can see you are feeling very low”. Try to keep your language neutral. Give the person time to answer and try not to grill them with too many questions.
  5. Talk about wellbeing. Exercise, having a healthy diet and taking a break can help protect mental health and sustain wellbeing. Talk about ways of de-stressing and ask if they find anything helpful.
  6. Listen carefully to what they tell you. Repeat what they have said back to them to ensure you have understood it. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but by showing you understand how they feel, you are letting them know you respect their feelings.
  7. Offer them help in seeking professional support and provide information on ways to do this.
  8. Know your limits. If you believe they are in immediate danger or they have incurred injuries that need medical attention, you need to take action to make sure they are safe. More details on dealing in a crisis can be found below.

How do I respond in a crisis?

People with mental health problems sometimes experience a crisis, such as breaking down in tears, having a panic attack, feeling suicidal, or experiencing a different sense of reality (dissociation). This may include even losing a sense of time and place. You may feel a sense of crisis too, in response, but it’s important to stay calm yourself.

There are some general strategies that you can use to help:

    • Listen without making judgements and concentrate on their needs in that moment.
    • Ask them what would help them.
    • Reassure and help point them to practical information or resources.
    • Avoid confrontation.
    • Ask if there is someone they would like you to contact.
    • Encourage them to seek appropriate professional help.
    • If they have hurt themselves, make sure they get the first aid they need.

Seeing, hearing or believing things that no-one else does can be the symptom of a mental health problem. It can be frightening and upsetting. Gently remind the person who you are and why you are there. Under extreme stress, people can dissociate. Don’t reinforce or dismiss their experiences, but acknowledge how the symptoms are making them feel.

How do I respond if someone is suicidal?
If someone tells you they are feeling suicidal or can’t go on, or if you suspect they are thinking of taking their own life, it is very important to encourage them to get help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Hours: Available 24 hours. Languages: English and Spanish
1-800-273-8255

Mental Health and John Lewis

In 2014, APA President Dr. Nadine Kaslow, presented Rep. John Lewis with a presidential citation honoring the congressman as a truly effective champion of the application of psychology to promote human rights, health, well-being and dignity.

He epitomized the American Psychological Association’s values to strive for social justice, diversity and inclusion, from his early days as a heroic young Freedom Rider, and fighting a long, hard struggle to end racial discrimination and segregation throughout our nation.

Little Known Facts:
Lewis fought to improve the child welfare system, eliminate pay disparities for women, further LGBT rights, and aid disadvantaged families, among many other accomplishments. He supported biomedical and behavioral research at the National Institutes of Health, which helped to advance research to enhance health and well-being by including attention to behavioral factors, such as unhealthy diet and lack of exercise, that play a significant role in cancer, heart disease, and many other serious disorders, especially in people of color. Truly a hero in every way. 

Racism and Mental Health

I was recently interviewed for a mental health blog by a psychiatrist/professor/writer from Georgetown
on the topic of Racism and Mental Health.

Here’s our conversation:
How did you get interested in racism and mental health?

When I was growing up, my father was head of the English department at a historically black college. One of the classes he taught was Race Relations. These conversations were part of my childhood even though my family was not black. Other children would hang posters of musicians and actors in their rooms, and for my birthday I would get Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

I went on to study genetics, microbiology, and clinical psychology. In addition to practices in Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, I have been Clinical Director at a community health clinic in DC for 18 years, where half my patients have been from communities of color. I have listened and learned a lot from my patients.

What is an example of a case you have seen in your practice that involves racism affecting mental health?
A case that comes to mind I think illustrates what can happen. I was treating a woman who was high functioning with a good job. Her supervisor held her back from promotions and would cut her off in meetings when she tried to express herself. This can happen to all women but especially to minority women. Under this supervision, she deteriorated to the point that this high functioning individual was not able to function. These microaggressions can have a cumulative effect. When this occurs in an area such as your job, these repetitive traumas can accumulate and affect your livelihood.

What are some important findings on racism and mental health?
Some research has found that in patients with a history of discrimination and racism, there can be an overactive amygdala, a similar finding to that in brains of individuals with Post-Traumatic Disorder (PTSD). Also, Dr. Monnica Williams at Louisville discusses race-based PTSD or racial trauma which she describes as PTSD symptoms as a result of racism. The diagnosis of PTSD is a group of symptoms that occur after a single traumatic event. But complex PTSD occurs after repeated trauma in which a number of traumas pile on to one another. Race based stress can be a lifetime of psychological effects and not necessarily something you can leave or get away from. In a recent study, when children were exposed to racism through their lifetime, by the age of 12, there were higher rates of substance abuse and decreased self esteem.

What are your thoughts about the recent events in our country?
One of the hard things about the current events from the wrongful deaths of civilians to the pepper spray of peaceful protesters is the vicarious trauma it is producing for individuals miles away. People see these things and it can feel like it is happening to them. There is intense grief and anger it produces on top of a history of discrimination for many.

The inequities in housing, education, health care, and rental approvals have been longstanding. We all need to listen with an open ear so that people feel seen and heard. As clinicians we need to be careful to not overdiagnose. Someone feeling like the world is out to get them or that they can’t walk down the street might not be simply exhibiting paranoid ideation, but this may be their sense of reality.

How can the medical profession help?
In a number of instances, the medical profession experimented on black women as their scientific subjects. J. Marion Sims, The Father of Gynecology, believed their sensory nerves to be different so they would not feel pain. There is sometimes still a lack of trust in scientists and doctors. As clinicians, we need to be careful in how we interpret and how we understand these complex situations. Psychotherapy research shows that Black Americans begin therapy with optimism, but within a few sessions, they become less optimistic and drop out at higher rates and are unlikely to return. Patients can sometimes feel misheard, misinterpreted, blamed. Race and the experience around this should be part of clinical intakes routinely. Listening with an open ear is crucial to the doctor-patient relationship.

Black Mental Health

Black history month and psychology:

A quick look at research into disparities in need for services and access to mental health treatment.

1946
In the 1940s, psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark designed and conducted a series of experiments known colloquially as “the doll tests” to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children. Drs. Clark used four dolls, identical except for color, to test children’s racial perceptions. Their subjects, children between the ages of three to seven, were asked to identify both the race of the dolls and which color doll they prefer. A majority of the children, BOTH black and white, preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it. The Clarks concluded that “prejudice, discrimination, and segregation” created a feeling of inferiority among African-American children and damaged their self-esteem.  The findings were presented to the American Psychological Association about the crisis in mental health for Black children.

2016
In a study published in June 2016, in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Princeton doctoral graduate student Heather Kugelmass used voice actors to record phone messages for 320 New York City-based psychotherapists, each asking for a new patient appointment. The psychotherapists, all of whom had doctoral degrees and were selected from the directory of a large HMO, each received calls from one black middle-class and one white middle-class caller, or from one black working-class and one white working-class caller. Each caller mentioned symptoms of depression, mentioned that they were covered by the HMO health insurance plan, requested a weekday evening appointment, and asked the therapist to call back with possible appointment times. Kugelmass varied the names, wording and accents of the callers to suggest race and class. Overall, she found that 44 percent of the voice messages were returned, and that 15 percent elicited a clear appointment offer from the therapist.  Importantly, offer rates varied by race and class—the therapists offered appointments to 28 percent of white middle-class callers but only 17 percent of black middle-class ones. Among working-class callers, only 8 percent of both black and white appointment-seekers received offers.

Current status
According to the federal Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress.

However, only 30% of Black Americans are likely to seek any form of treatment, when experiencing significant psychiatric symptoms, compared to 45% of white Americans.  In 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24.

Making treatment more affordable
The cost of treatment may be prohibitive for many, especially among those without insurance coverage. Many low-income individuals can find help in the community health system, but such systems may suffer from a lack of clinicians able to treat complex and less common conditions. It can be especially difficult to find care for those who lack any sort of insurance, have an unstable living situation, or who must contend with the inability to make appointments due to overcrowding.  Individual practices and treatment centers can help by publicizing effective low-cost treatment options (i.e., practicum students/interns, sliding-scale slots, etc.)

Increasing awareness of mental disorders and treatment options
Education about mental disorders and the treatment process is critical to reducing barriers to treatment among the African American community. Suggestions for overcoming this barrier include public education campaigns (e.g., mass media), educational presentations at community venues (e.g., black churches), and open information sessions at local mental health clinics. In fact, many black churches are taking the treatment to where the people are and hiring licensed therapists to work with their flock.

Transparency
For those who do start treatment, the first clinical encounter presents an important opportunity to address skepticism about the usefulness of mental health treatment. It’s the clinician’s responsibility to demystify the process and explain the benefits of staying the course. Without this knowledge, the participant may only assume what he or she may encounter and base their decision to follow through on incorrect assumptions. If the expected outcomes, number of sessions, and potential goals are clearly outlined in advance, there is lesser chances of feeling misled or not in control.

Making mental health a priority
Treatment has the potential to conflict with many daily activities or commitments for busy people. Many individuals take second and third jobs to make ends meet. Whether the individual feels treatment is a necessary priority despite prior engagements, transportation, or scheduling issues is an important positive step.

Including the family
Actively incorporating the family is another crucial measure in overcoming barriers to treatment. By gaining familial support, the client may start to lose the fear of being outcast or stigmatized. In addition, with the family’s acceptance, making time for treatment becomes easier and priorities may be put into perspective. Utilizing the family to emphasize the importance of good mental health creates more allies to emphasize the relationship between improved functioning and greater success at home, community, and work.

Reducing fears about therapy and stigma
Making psychotherapy less intimidating may be one of the most important ways of improving help-seeking. Careful use of language can help to reduce some discomfort surrounding mental health care. For example, many clients are more comfortable with the term “counseling” over “psychotherapy” (Thompson et al., 2004), and this should be considered in advertising and conversational exchanges. Another practical way to reduce fears is to offer free initial  assessments, screening/intakes, and phone consultations, which will help familiarize potential patients with the clinic, clinician, and treatment. Clinicians might use initial contacts to address fears of being involuntarily hospitalized by explaining the difference between typical mental health challenges and “being crazy,” which has often been brought up as a concern.

Provider Bias And Inequality Of Care
Conscious or unconscious bias from providers and lack of cultural competence result in misdiagnosis and poorer quality of care. Black Americans, especially women, are more likely to experience and mention physical symptoms related to mental health problems. For example, you may describe bodily aches and pains when talking about depression. A health care provider who is not culturally competent might not recognize these as symptoms of a mental health condition.

Statistics: NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), 2017.

Minority Mental Health: Everyday Traumas and Microaggressions

Just a few words about the presentation that I’ll be giving to the Association of Practicing Psychologists (APP.org), Montgomery & Prince George’s Counties on November 17th.  The topic is Minority Mental Health: Everyday Traumas and Microaggressions and its being offered as part of their Continuing Education series.

APP is a professional organization for practicing psychiatrists, and as such they are approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists. This workshop is for licensed psychologists who want to better describe, discuss and assess the psychological stressors that clients may struggle with in the context of everyday micro-aggressions or racism.

I’ve been told by the organizers that my workshop is almost sold out already. I’m gratified to know that so many of my colleagues are committed to cultural diversity and minority mental health. And I look forward to giving similar workshops, with/for APP and other organizations in the future.

 

                                                              

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.