TAMPA, Fla. — Gaining access to mental health services can be difficult, and for people of color that access can be even more challenging.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is taking a closer look at this issue to bring us a better understanding of why seeking therapy is less common among minorities. He’s also digging deeper into a bill that’s headed to the governor’s desk that may make mental health care more accessible to minorities in Florida.
“I feel like through therapy it helps make those connections versus you making them yourself.” Yorelis Apolinario is from Tampa Bay, but she’s currently living in Los Angeles as a professional dancer and she says, seeking therapy has had a huge impact on her life. “It just helps bring up all of the things that, one, I didn’t know were affecting me.”
She’s been attending therapy for about four years and as an Afro Latina, she knows that seeking help in the form of therapy isn’t common among many minority groups. “I just think therapy is important for people of color because it’s in our culture to just steer away from it.”
In fact, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to receive mental health services than Whites. Mental health services are used by about 17% of Blacks, 15% of Latinos, and about 10% of Asians. Some of the reasons why are lack of access to counseling, historically a strong dependence on religion to help with trauma, and a sense of taboo that has prevailed in many of these communities. “They kind of think you’re crazy. They think there must be something wrong with you,” said Yorelis.
However, the idea of seeking professional help in the form of therapy among people of color is starting to change. “We realize that mental health is plaguing us a lot and I don’t think it’s a new realization, I just think that it’s now a lot more acceptable to talk about it,” said Terik Greensberry, owner of Dearly Loved Counseling. He’s been a therapist for about six years and he says about 60% of his clients are minorities.
Terik says thanks to video conferencing, receiving therapy is becoming more accessible to people of color. “You don’t have to find a therapist who lives within 15 minutes of you.”
He says the best place to find a therapist is a website called Psychology Today because you can see the bios and choose from thousands of therapists.
More racial and ethnic minorities are becoming clinical social workers, but are still greatly underrepresented. According to the American Psychological Association, of all of the people working in the psychology workforce, Asians account for 5%, Latinos account for 5%, and Blacks account for 4%.
In Tallahassee, House Bill 183 has passed both the statehouse and senate. The bill is meant to increase health equity and access to mental health for minorities. Dr. Kyaien Conner teaches mental Health, law, and policy at USF and she wrote the bill.
She says this bill places a focus on cultural lay health workers, which are people who may not have master’s degrees in social work but have life experiences that allow them to counsel people in their communities. “These are folks who have been through the mental health care system before.
They’ve been through treatment. They have that life experience and they can be trained to provide information and support to other people who look like them who are going through something serious themselves.”
The bill also calls for making the mental health system more accessible to non-English speakers. “Ensuring that clinicians have access to bilingual providers who can communicate with individuals for whom English may not be their first language,” said Dr. Conner.
The bill is headed to the Governor’s desk. If signed, these provisions will go into effect on July 1.
If you or someone you know is interested in therapy, here’s a link to local resources.