Increasing Mental Health Care Access for Black Americans

Cheerful black man talking to psychologist and sharing his progress.

February 22, 2021

Black History Month is a time for remembrance, reflection, and reckoning in the United States. It’s a time to celebrate the many advancements and achievements of Black Americans. This month is also an opportunity to continue to listen to and learn from the Black community and ensure that we advocate for better systems that promote true racial equity.

This is true for so many aspects of society, including mental health care. Black History Month this year started off with a stark reminder that Black people in the United States still face discrimination in our society even when trying to access the health care they need. On February 1st, the New York Times reported that a nine-year-old girl who needed mental health care was pepper-sprayed by one of the nine police officers who were at the scene while she was in handcuffs. This was after her mother asked the police officers to call mental health services. They were never called.

While this young girl survived her encounter with the police during her mental health crisis, Daniel Prude did not. Prude, a Black man from Rochester, NY, was in the midst of a mental health crisis when his family called the police. The officers put a bag on his head and pinned him to the ground until he stopped breathing. Walter Wallace, Jr. was shot and killed by the police last October after his family called 911 to help him during a mental health crisis. His treatment for Bipolar Disorder had been delayed by the COVID pandemic. 

Since 2015, almost one in every four people killed by police officers in the United States has had a known mental health condition. We also know that although half of the people shot and killed by police are White, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. Black people account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of White Americans. 

Access to care is a key part of Quartet’s mission. We make it easier for people to get the mental health care they need when they need it. We also know that in the United States, overt and covert racist policies have systematically prevented Black communities from accessing quality care.

There is a lack of trust in the medical system — and for good reason. Racist systems have historically failed Black people through abuse, denying care, or exploiting Black bodies. For many Black people, medical care has been inaccessible due to high costs or a lack of insurance. There is a lack of Black providers — including mental health providers. In 2015, only four percent of psychologists in the U.S. workforce were Black or African-American. That’s why Quartet made a donation to the Boris L. Henson Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships to Black students who seek a career in the mental health field to help increase the number of Black mental health providers in the U.S.

Even so, many of these Black mental health providers are treating their patientswhile also protecting their own mental health. This balancing act, only heightened by the pandemic, oftentimes leads to burnout. Quartet created the Caring for Our Caregivers Initiative in partnership with SilverCloud to give all of our providers free computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (cCBT) programs with self-guided content on stress, sleep, anxiety, and more.

Today, there are not enough mental health professionals to support those in need.  This puts other professionals, including police officers, in a challenging position when called upon to support patients with mental health conditions.  Through the continued investment in mental health tools, training and access, we can help to minimize mishandled crisis scenarios. We know this is critical, in particular for Black communities.  Now is the time to invest in mental health.  The stakes are just too high.

Last summer, we said, “racism is a public health crisis that is disproportionately killing Black people.” We still stand by that statement. We continue to work toward a day when every person with a mental health condition can get the care they need. After a year of reckoning with racism in the United States, it’s time for all of us in the mental health community to use our resources to make effective changes so that everyone can easily access mental health care.


– Team Quartet

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