Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance Targets Mental Illness Among African-Americans

Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA). (Courtesy Image)
Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA). (Courtesy Image)

Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA), in conjunction with the American Psychiatric Association and Baltimore City Healthy Start, will conduct a day-long conference April 11 to spur awareness about mental health issues in the African-American community.

This conference, titled Black and Blue: The State of African American Mental Health, will be held at the Mt. Washington Conference Center in Baltimore, and will provide information about how to access mental health services, as well as how mental health professionals can better serve the African-American community.

African Americans are far less likely than Whites to report having seen a mental health provider, according to a December 2013 report by the Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

According to a report released last February by the Maryland Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Black Marylanders were also significantly less likely to report having ever been diagnosed with depression, compared to Whites (9.1 percent compared to 16.7 percent, respectively).

Some areas of the city, such as Cherry Hill, lack sufficient access to a mental health care provider, according to Crista Taylor, vice president of system development at Behavioral Health System Baltimore, the organization that oversees the fee-for-service mental health system in Baltimore City.

In addition, she said, a stigma around mental health issues in the Black community accounts more for the disparities in the utilization of mental health services than lack of access.

“I think there’s a stigma in general with mental illness, but, yes it is more prominent in the African-American community,” she said. “In general, people don’t want to be labeled as somebody who has a mental illness. There’s a negative stereotype associated with having a mental illness.”

Jan Desper, executive director of the Black Mental Health Alliance, echoed that concern, noting that the acceptance of mental health treatment faces many hurdles in the Black community.

Desper said there is a reluctance to discuss personal problems outside the family; in addition to a belief in self-reliance, pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, and a dependence on a strong tradition of spirituality that emphasizes an exclusive reliance on prayer.

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Source: | Roberto Alejandro

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