Caring for Black Adults with Serious Mental Illness


With Mental Health Awareness Month fast approaching, this is a good time to remember that barriers to access continue to prevent too many people from seeking care for mental health challenges.

It’s also important to remember that those barriers are especially burdensome for Black adults.

A CDC survey released in August 2020 showed nearly 41% of those surveyed reported symptoms of anxiety or depression or increased substance use and nearly 11% said they had seriously considered suicide over the previous 30 days, compared with just over 4% in 2018. But among Black Americans, 44% reported symptoms of anxiety and depression and 15% said they had seriously considered suicide.

Despite demand for mental health and substance use treatment, only one in three Black Americans in need of mental health care receives treatment, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Something needs to change.

The Community Health Equity Alliance is a collaboration of mental health stakeholders, established by Janssen Neuroscience, to prioritize community-informed solutions to effectively and meaningfully advance care for Black adults with serious mental illness (SMI).

The National Council is collaborating with Janssen Neuroscience to advance the common goal of achieving more equitable care, including addressing the needs of Black adults living with a diagnosis of a SMI through the lens of community health and cultural sensitivity.

“To combat inequities and strengthen the health of our communities, we must come together to provide community-level solutions to effectively address the needs of Black adults impacted by historic systemic disparities,” said Dr. Le Ondra Clark Harvey, Chief Executive Officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies (CBHA), which is participating in the Alliance.

As a community of advocates, we seek to advance solutions to mental healthcare that are scalable, sustainable and increase opportunities for equitable impact. That includes increasing awareness around unmet needs, health inequities and racial bias faced by Black adults living with a diagnosis of an SMI through the development of new, culturally appropriate resources, informed by community priorities and made available through faith-based and advocacy organization networks.

It also includes educating key decision makers on ways to better support Black communities effected by inequities in care, so they feel empowered to seek health services. We can accomplish that through the development of competency-building practices and educational resources to navigate through culturally appropriate channels of care.

The Community Health Equity Alliance already has established new programs in communities in California, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.

“The Community Health Equity Alliance takes the critical step of prioritizing community-informed solutions to advance serious mental illness (SMI) care for Black adults based on community needs. CBHA is a proud member of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and is excited to collaborate with Janssen Neuroscience to bring stakeholders together to effectively address the needs of Black communities impacted by inequities in our systems of care in California,” Harvey said.

Our work has just begun, but the need is significant, so we intend to expand efforts. That’s because Black adults are likely to have less access to culturally appropriate care and are more likely to receive poorer quality care when treated, due to historic systemic disparities. Because of those factors, many Black adults don’t engage with mental health services.

Black adults living with SMI also are more likely to receive care in an emergency setting and are at a higher risk for incarceration.

Increasing awareness and education around peer support and crisis care management can improve trusted delivery and pursuit of equitable care for Black adults with SMI.

As we prepare to observe Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s important to remember that not everyone has the same access to mental health treatment and service. It’s more important to do something about it, so the National Council will work with Janssen Neuroscience through the Community Health Equity Alliance to ensure Black adults with SMI receive the care they need.


Charles Ingoglia, MSW
(he/him/his) President and CEO
National Council for Mental Wellbeing
See bio