The subject of mental illness has been taboo in the African American community for too long.
Too often these issues have been locked behind closed doors, viewed as “family business.” Many people misunderstand what a mental health condition is and don’t talk about this topic.
African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, but the lack of knowledge leads many to believe that a mental health condition is a personal weakness.
For communities of color, there is still great lack of awareness of what mental illnesses are and what one can do to recover.
This month of Women History, we salute a shero who works hard to better our community – Gigi Crowder, a native of Oakland, California, who has become the voice and champion for mental health in the Bay Area.
Crowder a mother of two 21-year-old twin young men, is a consumer advocate and a strong believer in social justice.
She has worked in the Behavioral Health Care field for more than 27 years after completing her studies at the UC Berkeley. As a family member of several loved ones who have received private and public mental health services, she is a strong advocate for promoting culturally responsive behavioral health services for all clients, consumers and family members.
Crowder uses her role as Alameda’s County’s Ethnic Service Manager and Culturally Responsive Coordinator to change the delivery of services and the trajectory of current outcomes when it comes to the African American community.
She was instrumental in producing a game changing report – called the African American Utilization Report – published in 2011, which shows how African Americans were utilizing services of Behavioral Health at disproportionately higher rates than other races but were not experiencing positive outcomes.
In spite of advances in diagnosis and treatment, medical evidence has proven that racial and ethnic minorities typically tend to receive a lower quality of care than non-minorities and that minority patients experience greater morbidity and mortality.
“Behavioral health care is not a one size fit all system,” says Crowder. “We found that services were not being delivered in a culturally appropriate and sensitive manner.”
Alameda County has the second largest population of African Americans in California, and 66 percent of those who are receiving behavioral healthcare services Alameda County reside in Oakland.
Throughout the country, adult African-American consumers with serious emotional or mental health condition are often wrongly diagnosed, and instead of receiving treatment, are winding up in the criminal justice system.
Black youth often receive inappropriate mental health diagnosis and services while in foster care in juvenile justice settings. Compounding these issues, African-American adults are less likely to receive mental health assessments and, once assessed, often are misdiagnosed and labeled with mental health conditions that are much more severe than indicated.
African-Americans are often overlooked for early mental health issues, such as depression and an anxiety, and contributing factors such as environmental stress and historical trauma are rarely acknowledged.
African-Americans have an even higher rate of service utilization in local alcohol and other drug programs. Statistics indicate that more than 70 percent of all consumer served in the behavioral health care system have co-occurring diagnosis of alcohol and substance abuse.
Much of this can be attributed to self-medication due to trauma and attempt to mass mental health issues.
Crowder feels that continued efforts to engage community and build collaborations with faith/spiritual communities will enhance wellness and recovery, eliminate stigma and discrimination through education and correcting misinformation.