We Ain’t Crazy! Just Coping with a Crazy System: Pathways into the Black Population for Eliminating Mental Health Disparities

“It is unpleasant to admit, but many African Americans do not receive appropriate mental health services, even when they go to places that are suppose to help them. Why is that?”

It’s a question Dr. V. Diane Woods has been asking for more than a decade. At the national Black Mental Health Workers Conference in Los Angeles Dr. Woods, president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County (AAHI-SBC) rolled out a 300 plus page report that paints a damning picture of how more than half of African American mental health sufferers receive little or no treatment…but account for a high rate of involuntary commitments.

One third of families have a member who is currently suffering from a mental illness, they say. It accounts for nearly half of absenteeism at work and mental illness accounts for nearly half of people on incapacity benefits. Why are some people not understood? California’s African American residents were interviewed and given the opportunity to share their real experiences with getting help with mental issues,” said Dr. Woods.

“We Ain’t Crazy! Just Coping with a Crazy System: Pathways to Eliminating Mental Health Disparities in the Black Population,” is the comprehensive report of this 2-year long African American study that sought to answer one major question: What are community practices Black people believe would help them have good mental health? As well as, how are mental issues prevented from occurring in Black people?” Respondents say the stigma associated with mental issues, according to respondents, produced shame and embarrassment, which often determined if individuals sought help. “The thought of being labeled `crazy’ and not normal rendered many black people psychologically paralyzed,” the report said.
“In addition, having a mental issue is embarrassing. Most people do not recognize when they need help, and when they do, most people do not feel comfortable in asking for help with a mental issue,” said Woods.

Dr. Woods is the principal investigator, for a statewide team of Black strategic planning workgroup members tasked to develop a major statewide policy initiative to improve access and quality of care, as well as increase positive outcomes for historically underserved communities and ethnic and cultural population groups. “There were 1,195 individuals who participated in the African American study. Community-based participatory research methods were used that included 15 key informant interviews, 35 focus group meetings, 43 one-on-one interviews, 635 surveys, 5 case studies, 6 small group meetings and 10 public meetings. Individuals participated from over 30 California counties.

Population of focus: African Americans in California

Links to resource:

Date: 2012

Organization: California Reducing Disparities Project