Improving mental health and substance use treatment services for Black people in America has a long way to go. Our national history began with the cruelty of slavery, physical and mental abuse, and the emotionally agonizing forced separation of Black families.
Before the Civil War, in 1840 U.S. Marshalls went door to door conducting the sixth-ever census in the United States. The survey marked the first time the U.S. government included a question about mental health. The results were tragic and long-lasting. If you can imagine it, 21 years before the Civil War erupted, with over two million enslaved people in America, the question asked fed and upheld a racist lie that was spreading throughout America at the time: freedom causes African Americans to go insane.
Black Americans won their hard-earned freedom from slavery in 1865. One Black man, Mr. Felix Haywood, describes the singing and cheering that erupted after the announcement of emancipation on his home plantation in Texas. “We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn’t know what was to come with it.” What came with freedom was an unimaginable host of ignorance, hatred, racism, discrimination, and other barriers to health, mental wellness, and happiness for freed Black people. Still to come were the horrors of the KKK, Jim Crow laws of the 20th century, and America’s fight for civil rights in the 1960’s. While some progress has been made in our lifetimes, mental health equity lags behind.
During Black History Month, we celebrate the Black heroes who have dedicated their lives to advancing Black mental health. These include Herman George Canady, a prominent Black clinical and social psychologist who proved how the race of a test proctor can create bias in IQ testing. A local hero in mental healthcare was Bebe Moore Campbell. Ms. Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community. She wrote the landmark book, “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine” and founded NAMI-Inglewood in a predominantly Black neighborhood to create a space that was safe for Black people to talk about mental health concerns.
Yet, so many things remain the same. Research indicates that compared with people who are white, Black and other people of color in 2023 are:
- Less likely to have access to mental health services
- Less likely to seek out services
- Less likely to receive needed care
- More likely to receive poor quality of care
- More likely to end services prematurely
L.A. CADA is working to provide mental health and substance use disorder services that improve healthcare equity for Black youth, men, and women. We’re here for you if you need help — call us at (562) 906-2676.