Local mental health experts discuss struggles in communities of color getting help

Published: Jul. 10, 2020 at 12:00 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Tamara Marcus was under a lot of stress with school and wanted to improve relationships with her family and friends, so she started searching for a professional to help her manage her anxiety, but she struggled to find someone of color.

“Finding someone who kind of shares some level of your identity whatever that may be, it could be race, religion, socio-economic costs but having who, if they don’t share that identity is at least familiar with the impact that could play on your mental health is really important,” said Marcus.

On top of that, high costs all played a big part in her challenges.

“Seeking help is an innately challenging thing to do already and so when you have something like that that doesn’t need to be there, when you have something like that standing in the way of real help, it’s really disheartening and discouraging. That could be enough to throw someone off the course of actually seeking the help they may need,” Marcus added.

Those are some of the many barriers in Black and Brown communities - that factor into why people don’t get help.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely than White adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness, or hopelessness. Black adults living below the poverty line are more than twice as likely to report serious psychological distress as those living above it. However, only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receives it.

“We’ve been trained and conditioned to keep going and the other part is that we’ve been told our problems are worth less than others,” said LaSharon Taylor, a licensed mental health psychotherapist in Cedar Rapids.

“We’ve heard for years or generations, we don’t go to those people, or those aren’t our problems or if I have a mental illness that that means I’m crazy,” said Laneisha Waller, a licensed psychologist at the University of Iowa’s University Counseling Center.

However, even if people find a therapist they trust, they can’t always afford the care, or can’t get to their appointments.

“There is limited access to health insurance. If folks are paying out of pocket, that’s costly. It could be also inaccessibility of services like transportation issues,” said Waller. “There’s also a history of cultural mistrust a lot of it is rooted in racism.”

Taylor says institutional racism made it harder for her to become a therapist. While that made the process longer in getting her license, she knows by helping people take care of their mental health, they’re also getting better physically.

“Our trauma ends up coming out in our actual bodies so when we’re seeing rates of diabetes increase and any other sort of inflammatory diseases including cancer, high blood pressure, being overweight, often times it does result in our health and quality of life being decreased,” said Taylor.

Both agree breaking the barriers start with talking about mental health to normalize it.

“There has been a lot of emphasis on being anti-racist and people getting support and being an ally but there has not been a lot of emphasis on having community forums or community spaces for African Americans to on our own, just within ourselves to process our experiences,” said Taylor.

NAMI or the National Alliance on Mental Illness has some resources for help on their website.

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