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Shelley Starkey

Behavioral Health Policy and Practice Intern

Congressional Briefing Addresses Mental Health Disparities for Black Women

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The Congressional Caucus for Black Women and Girls hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill last Thursday, highlighting mental health issues affecting women of color. The briefing, titled “What Makes Black Girls Blue?” addressed the complex intersections of mental health, race, and gender and featured the perspectives of community treatment providers, public officials, and researchers. The panelists offered potential solutions for overcoming barriers to mental health care, including greater mental health awareness and more culturally competent care.

The day’s discussion centered on the stereotypes that individuals in the black community, particularly black women, face and the effects these views have on mental health within the population. Historical trauma, race-related conflicts, and the tendency to avoid talking openly about general wellbeing were cited as factors that lead black women to have higher cortisol levels, a stress hormone that raises the risk for many physical and mental health problems, including depression. In addition, black communities experience higher rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a byproduct of violence and discrimination.

Dr. Nadia M. Richardson, the Founder of Valenrich Wellness LLC, stressed the importance of providing culturally competent care for all patients, but especially for women of color. According to Dr. Richardson, patients need providers that look like them and understand their perspective when dealing with mental health concerns directly related to race. However, finding such providers is difficult due to the underrepresentation of black people in health care settings, with even fewer providers being black women.

Chirlane McCray, the First Lady of New York City, acknowledged the complexities surrounding mental health in the black community, detailing her own experience with finding an appropriate mental health provider for her daughter. McCray referenced the statistic that roughly 1 in 5 adults in the US as well as about 40% of people incarcerated in New York City suffer from some form of mental illness. The First Lady encouraged attendees to help change the stigma surrounding mental health, educate themselves on these issues, and prepare themselves to help others who are experiencing mental health crises by attending a Mental Health First Aid course in their area.

A video recording of the event can be found on Representative Robin Kelly’s (D-IL) Facebook page here.