Mental Health Clinicians of Color aim to destigmatize mental health in communities of color

The City of Grand Rapids recently awarded funding to nine organizations with projects centered around COVID-19 resiliency, equity, and structural racism. Through the city’s Neighborhood Match Fund (NMF) $64,000 was granted to projects igniting community change.
One of these is the Mental Health Clinicians of Color in Grand Rapids, which works to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health in communities of color, while also increasing awareness of clinicians of color.
Founders Rebecca Spann and Janee’ Beville are both licensed professional counselors in Grand Rapids. They were having monthly check-ins with each other to provide support when they decided to create a Facebook group to connect with more mental health professionals of color. 
“The mission and purpose is to create a safe place for mental health professionals of color to network, support, and offer a variety of resources to the community,” says Spann and Beville in an email response.
Just over one year old, the group now has 170 members and has recently become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
There is also a public Facebook page where Spann and Beville highlight local mental health professionals and share resources for the community, such as mental health tips and articles.
One in five adults in the U.S. has a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, but not everyone seeks care due to underlying stigmas and disparities. These can be especially heightened in communities of color.Janee’ Beville
“One of the mental health disparities is access to services. Often people of color have no idea how to look for mental health services from therapists who look like them,” say Spann and Beville.
In 2018, 84% of the U.S. psychology workforce was white, while only 6% was Hispanic and 4% was Black, according to the American Psychological Association.
With funding from the city’s Neighborhood Match Fund, Mental Health Clinicians of Color in Grand Rapids plans on creating an electronic directory for therapists of color in order to help the community find and connect with providers.  
“Some of the stigmas associated with mental health also pose a barrier to seeking services: distrust of healthcare providers, desire to keep things private, social stigma associated with seeking mental health services, and conflicting aspects of spiritual beliefs and mental health challenges,” say Spann and Beville.
COVID-19 has already shed light on the systemic disparities and inequalities in the U.S., where Black, Latinx, indigenous, and other people of color are being disproportionately affected, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
Black Americans are 2.3 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the white population and make up 21% of all U.S. deaths. In Michigan, Blacks represent 14% of the population, but 24% of COVID-19 cases and 39% of deaths, signifying that there’s likely a racial disparity.
While the pandemic has highlighted these disparities, it’s also caused increasing concern for mental health, especially among communities of color, which have already been affected disproportionately.
“COVID-19 created a more immediate need for mental health services as rates of anxiety, stress, and depression increased due to increased financial needs, parenting struggles, and family conflicts,” say Spann and Beville. “We also faced more stress and trauma related to racial injustices in our communities of color.”
They say that the move to virtual appointments, however, increased accessibility for people to receive therapy.
In addition to the electronic directory, Mental Health Clinicians of Color in Grand Rapids plans on using its awarded funds for community events focused on mental health, in addition to providing funding for professional development opportunities for mental health professionals of color.
The Neighborhood Match Fund will be accepting the next round of project submissions between December 1 through the 31. Residents and community-based organizations can apply on the city’s website.

Photos courtesy Rebecca Spann and Janee' Beville.
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