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'You want to talk with somebody that can understand': Nebraska needs Black mental health providers

Posted at 7:09 AM, Feb 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-16 08:09:51-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — There are very few Black mental healthcare providers in Nebraska, creating a potential barrier to get help.

Dr. Sheritta Strong, psychiatrist and director of inclusion at UNMC, says connecting with a counselor is vital to getting help and staying with a mental health plan. And having shared experiences and backgrounds with the person you're talking to can help.

“When you’re dealing with emotional health conditions, you want to talk with somebody that can understand, that can empathize, that can support your experience," Strong said. "You don’t have to be Black in order to empathize with the experience, but sometimes people are judged because the provider doesn’t identify with what they’re going through.”

According to UNMC's Behavioral Health Workforce report, published in 2018 and some of the latest data available, of 153 psychiatrists in Nebraska 91 were white, 3 were Black, 31 were Asian, 1 was Pacific Islander and 1 was Native American.

Of 369 psychologists, 291 were white, 3 were Black, 2 were Asian, 1 was Pacific Islander and 1 was Native American.

Not only are there few black providers, but there also aren’t many mental healthcare providers in general who practice in Omaha's historically Black communities.

"It is a desert for mental health services in the North Omaha community," Strong said. "And that’s something we have to continue to talk about, and see how we can continue to support the community.”

Strong also says there is some distrust of psychiatry in the community, because of the ties to the oppression and abuse of enslaved Black people.

“It’s ingrained, we talk about systemic oppressions, systemic racism, there’s so much of it that’s just built into the fabric of what it is, that it’s hard for folks sometimes to peel back the onion," Strong said.

Black patients are over-diagnosed with schizophrenia but under-diagnosed with PTSD.

Strong says talking about disparities in care, normalizing conversation about mental health, and being visible as a Black provider to offer trust and inspiration to future providers can help close these gaps.

“In order to be something, you have to see it first," Strong said. "We have to be able to be out there, whether its physicians, psychiatrists, therapists, we have to be out there so that students can see that we’re thriving, and that we’re enjoying what we’re doing, and that we enjoy helping people.”

Some other resources that are available for people of color that offer more diverse representation are the Charles Drew Health Center on 29th and Grant St.

There's also the Black Mental Health Alliance that connects people with a therapist.

If you are in crisis, call 800-950-NAMI or text "nami" to 741741 to reach the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

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