Blacks historically reluctant to seek mental health help

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Reginald Hooper might be aimlessly wandering the streets if he never sought life-changing psychotherapy treatment.

Reginald Hooper might be aimlessly wandering the streets if he never sought life-changing psychotherapy treatment.

For the last 17 years, the 45-year-old has been receiving counseling and much-needed treatment at the Beverly Morgan Park Mental Health Clinic, 1987 W. 111th St., which could be one of six clinics closed as a result of city cost-cutting measures.

“If this place closes, I would probably have to go to Jackson Park Hospital,” said Hooper who suffers from depression and schizophrenia. “I don’t have a therapist there.”

Other clinics that are slated to potentially shutdown following a Wednesday city council vote are Auburn Gresham, 1140 W. 79th St.; Back of the Yards, 4313 S. Ashland Ave.; Northtown Rogers Park, 1607 W. Howard St.; Northwest, 2354 N. Milwaukee Ave.; and Woodlawn, 6337 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Hooper, who is African-American, has historically not been the typical mental health treatment patient.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care.

Additionally, mental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African-American community. It’s believed that African Americans are much more likely to seek help though their primary care doctors as opposed to accessing specialty care, according to the alliance.

“It’s getting a little bit better,” said President and CEO of Community Mental Health Council & Foundation Dr. Carl Bell about Blacks considering mental health treatment. “People are getting more sophisticated and more educated.”

Bell said the prominence and influence of spirituality and an anti-psychologist rhetoric infiltrated within the Black community has played a role in African Americans failing to seek professional help.

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said, in reference to exclusively relying on the advice of a religious leader without considering a trained counselor. “A doctor is better than no doctor.”

In many instances, seeking counseling is considered a sign of a lack of faith in God and the healing power of divine intervention, according to NAMI.

Others have cited mistrust within the medical community, lack of medical insurance and the fact that less than three percent of all psychiatrists are black, which can hinder willingness to access treatment and medication.

Chicago-area clinical psychologist Dr. Brian Ragsdale, who treats patients from everything from PTSD to depression, said it’s at times difficult for individuals be comfortable with the notion of engaging with an individual who might not be able to relate to the African-American experience and struggles they face.

However, Ragsdale, who works with an abundance of Black clients, wants the conversation to change from why Blacks don’t seek mental health treatment,

to how those services can benefit and empower them.

“There is no shame in seeking help. A problem can’t be solved unless there is a specific plan for treatment, and action plan to deal with problems. It takes time to change and grow,” said Ragsdale.

“Our lives are valuable,” he continued. “African Americans need to know how to use therapy as a tool for achieving positive outcomes.”

That’s the approach Hooper took back in 1994 when he was in desperate straits dealing with a myriad of psychological issues.

“I knew I needed help. I was always willing to get it,” said Hooper.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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