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Is Black male mental health being ignored?

Chloe Herring | 4/24/2014, 9 a.m.
About 150 people attended an event seeking community-wide solutions to improve mental health in young, Black males last Friday at ...

About 150 people attended an event seeking community-wide solutions to improve mental health in young, Black males last Friday at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center.

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Evalina Bestman (right) spoke at a mental health conference for Black males in Liberty City

The event was a collaborative effort called “Black Male Mental Health Conference” in the series “Empowering the Village to Serve Black Male Youth.” Event coordinators said Friday’s conference was created to foster a community of professionals who are dedicated to improving the mental health of young, Black men.

“If you aren’t willing to save our Black male youth you are at the wrong conference,” said Evalina Bestman, a panelist for the day, to audience members.

Educators, mental health service providers, psychologists, law enforcement officers and community residents packed into the Wendell A. Narcisse Performing Arts Theater to view presentations from seasoned Black psychologists.

Bestman, who is CEO of New Horizons Community Mental Health Center in Miami, spoke of Black males as an endangered species and encouraged attendees to advocate for the young men with a passion to engender change in all facets of society.

“We should be saying ‘Save our Black male youth!’” she said.

The latest study from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) shows a need for mental health care treatment among Black populations who are adversely affected by historical and sociocultural factors like slavery, racism, substance-abuse and foster care placement.

Reports also show that Blacks avoid seeking professional help until their mental health issues become very severe.

“Unfortunately, there is a stigma sometimes in seeing a psychologist or a therapist,” said John Dixon of the Miami-Dade Economic Advocacy Trust (MDEAT). “We’re hoping that people will come out and see the resources that are available and make a decision to seek help.”

The Black Male Mental Health Conference was presented by MDEAT, which advocates for Black participation in the county’s economic growth.

The organization also works with Black teenagers in Miami in order to undertake socioeconomic disparities.

As it turns out, socioeconomic disparities are profoundly linked to mental illness in Black communities.

STRUGGLE TO GATHER STATISTICS

Statistics from the Surgeon General on mental health show that on average Blacks have a lower socioeconomic status than whites, which largely accounts for their higher rates of mental illness when compared to white counterparts.

Other reports from NIMH assert that much is unknown about the state of mental health for Blacks because researchers have difficulty reaching Blacks who are incarcerated, living in the inner-city or poor, rural areas.

But that doesn't undercut the urgency Black professionals have to address the mental health of Black male youth.

“The best possible outcome that I can see is more successful educated employees and happier Black males. That’s the end effect of what we’re doing,” said Ischaji Robertson, a psychologist who works in MDEAT’s teen programs.

Robertson said the event will help reach goals of helping young Black men by creating close connections in the community and encouraging cultural competency among service providers.

“One of the main goals is to give [young Black males] actual tangible recommendations that if they do them, then we can see positive outcome in the community and in their work,” he said.