Faith leaders from more than 80 Black churches in Chicago met on September 29, 2022, to discuss mental health stigma and learn how to better minister to mental health concerns among their congregants. The forum, which also featured local leaders in health care, community activism, and government, was held to educate and empower the attending faith leaders to open up conversations about mental health with congregants on Oct. 9 in honor of World Mental Health Day.
Donald Dew, President and CEO of Habilitative Systems, Inc., Dr. Obari Cartman, President of Chicago Association of Black Psychologists, and Adrienne McCue, President and Executive Director of Step Up for Mental Health, took part in a panel discussion that was moderated by Dennis Deer, Cook County Board Commissioner, and convened and coordinated by Evolent Health.
On Oct. 9, one day before World Mental Health Day, congregants will hear from pastors and faith leaders about the importance of mental health as a part of overall health. Sermons and homilies will share guidance on facilitating discussions with loved ones and directing them to appropriate resources and care.
“Last year, Cook County declared mental health and lack of mental health services a public health crisis. This issue has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Mental health concerns are as important and urgent as physical health concerns,” said Commissioner Deer. “It’s time to destigmatize seeking treatment, open more funding and access to mental health care and encourage people to seek resources and pathways to care. It’s our job as community leaders to help them open that door.”
Mental health clinicians in Chicago are not equitably available. Deer notes that the most affluent neighborhoods in his district have 5 mental health clinicians for every 100 people. On the west side and less affluent parts of his district, it’s just one clinician for every 1,000 people.
“We have to change the way we think about how we access mental health care, and we need more support and funding in the area of behavioral health,” said Apostle Carl L. White, Jr., Sr. Pastor, Victory Christian International Ministries in Harvey, Ill., and CEO, Southland Ministerial Health Network, “But lacking those resources right now, we must take action ourselves. We’re calling on congregants to create safe spaces for their families and friends, asking them to give themselves the grace to ask for and accept support, and sharing resources for them to increase awareness of and access to that support.”
Evolent Health, a health care managed services company supporting the care of more than 435,000 Medicaid beneficiaries in Cook County, convened the group and has been collaborating with them on promoting mental health awareness in Chicago since August of 2022.
“It takes 11 years on average between someone initially experiencing mental health symptoms, and that person getting treatment,” said Naprisha Taylor, Vice President, Office of the CEO and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Evolent. “We all know this is too long, and we want to see more people receiving the support they need sooner. We at Evolent are honored to be a part of mobilizing the Chicago community and encouraging healthy and productive discussions to close the care gap.”