Happy Black Mental Health Awareness Month! Despite all the pain, racial trauma, and microaggressions we continue to experience, we have managed to endure and to thrive. In honor of this month, I am thrilled to announce the launch of the Black Wellness 2025 campaign, my effort to address the mental wellness of our community. In this moment, as a psychologist and an executive coach, through education and engagement, I hope to highlight the need to decrease stigma around mental healthcare in the Black community and to enhance mental health outcomes in the next five years. In addition to those objectives, some of the goals of the campaign will be:
1) Increase the percentage of Black psychologists in the US workforce– according to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies, the percentage of Black psychologists has remained depressingly low at 4% for over the last decade and was actually higher in 2009 (6%). By identifying and addressing the institutional racism inherent in the field of psychology, the campaign will focus on how to exponentially increase the percentage of Black psychologists in the field, to make it more representative of the Black population as a whole (13.5%).
The reality is that the field of psychology is a privileged one, primarily designed for those with financial advantages, who have generational wealth to sustain the dearth of economic support from psychology doctoral programs, and the low pay typically provided during training, while pursuing a doctorate. For instance, as I completed my full time doctoral internship, one of the last steps before earning my doctorate, I was paid $22,000 at a site in New York City, barely above minimum wage. Remarkably, that salary was one of the highest paid internships at the time, with some sites offering $15,000 for the year. Sadly, these figures have not gone up markedly since I completed my internship close to 20 years ago.
It is no surprise that as we go up the psychology pipeline, the number of Black candidates shrinks dramatically. For far too long, the field of psychology has exploited doctoral student labor, because it is based on an outmoded Eurocentric, apprenticeship model, which easily leads to oppressive conditions and financial vulnerability. There needs to be new training models, with a much larger investment in diversifying the field. The pipeline programs developed by the American Psychological Association have clearly failed, and the reason is that they were not focused on transforming the system or addressing the structural racism which makes it difficult for Black psychology students to persevere and to pursue & complete doctorates at numbers commensurate with the Black population as a whole.
Since the typical doctoral program takes about 7 years to complete, for the campaign to be successful in the identified five year window, we must identify current Black masters students who might be interested in pursuing a doctorate, but are worried about its financial implications, and support them in doing so. We must also identify Black doctoral psychology students who have not been able to complete their degree, either due to not finishing their dissertation or other reasons (e.g. financial hardship, family responsibilities) and provide support to them as well. To increase the number of Black psychologists in the workforce by just 1%, we would need to identify 1,000 such candidates, while keeping the current numbers of Black psychologists in the workforce stable. Although it may seem daunting, it is imperative that we do so. Finally, we must have a much broader discussion about the structural racism perpetuated by the field of psychology and its programs, and how we can revolutionize them, to be more sustainably diverse, inclusive, and equitable, as it pertains to the needs of Black people and antiracist practice.
2) Institutionalize cultural competence training in psychology programs– part of the institutional, persistent racism in psychology is its failure to respond to current conditions and to continue to have outdated curricula. Cultural competence/antiracist training should be a mandatory part of accreditation standards, and therefore, required in all psychology programs. The campaign will advocate for this reality. As a counseling psychologist, my program focused on multicultural counseling, and I was required to take courses in this area, but that is not the case with other training programs (e.g. clinical, developmental, etc.).
One of the reasons that there is such a high degree of mental health disparities as it pertains to Black people is due to the lack of cultural competence and the failure to amplify anti-racist practice in the field. For example, according to the Mental Health Association of America, African Americans are more diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders, compared with White people with the same symptoms. They are also offered medication or therapy at lower rates than the general population. These legitimate concerns are what keep Black people from seeking mental healthcare to treat their needs.
Therefore, in addition to accreditation standards, cultural competence/anti-racism training should be included in all licensure requirements, to ensure that those who engage clinically with Black people, are not guided by unconscious bias in their diagnoses, do not commit racial micro-aggressions when engaging with clients, and are aware of their privilege & its impact on client care.
3) Improve access to affordable mental healthcare- one of the biggest barriers to African Americans seeking treatment in greater numbers is access to affordable mental healthcare. We must work to further strengthen the infrastructure through government support and innovative initiatives, which enable African Americans to find suitable providers to address their mental health needs.
In this moment, as we reflect upon all the ways that U.S. society has oppressed Black people and we are striving to address these historical inequities, I am dedicated to improving the quality of mental healthcare provided to Black people by targeting the field of psychology and its systems, which have neglected our needs since it founding. Now is the time to launch the Black Mental Wellness 2025 campaign, to support revolutionary efforts to demonstrate that Black Lives Matter always and everywhere. I look forward to being in partnership with all those who wish to bolster this campaign for long term change!