The Faces of Mental Health- From a Black Female Neuropsychologist Point of View
The face of mental health. You rarely see that face look like me. A young African American woman. Although the field is moving to be a predominantly woman field, I am still the minority.
This becomes a particular barrier, for individuals within the black community. Statistics show that African American patients, in particular, prefer to see someone of their own ethnicity. This increases their participation in therapy and lessens the chances of them dropping out.
Mental health is something that has not been a priority in our community. In my opinion largely because of the lack of representation. Let me give you two examples of why this is important.
First case, was an individual who presented to the hospital with serious injuries. The incident caused some injuries to the brain, which is why she was asked to see me for neuropsychological testing. The providers wanted to know if perhaps she had long lasting deficits resulting from her injuries. I could see the relief when I first checked in and told her I would be on her treatment team.
While testing her, she was open and honest with me, something she had not been with the other providers. After testing, she explained how appreciative she was that I was apart of her team. For this woman she knew that her voice would be heard because I was there to listen. I would not take her requests or needs as minor annoyances.
My second example is of a patient in retiring age, whose family was also involved with the care. The patient was selective about the information he provided; however it was important diagnostically that he provide information about his ability to function at home(This case I worked with my supervisor a Caucasian woman).
Functioning distinguishes the different levels of impairment for a potential dementia diagnosis, as he appeared to be a danger to himself based on the reason for hospitalization. In these situations, having family give information about the patient is important. However, in this case, the patient’s family appeared to have a significant distrust for the hospital, medicine, and psychology. This made it hard for me to build rapport. The family was traumatized by the incident due to the relatively young age of the patient. They also appeared to lack information, with particulars to the patients health that could have prevented the hospitalization.
This is why my interactions with patients and their families are so important. I can provide missing information, I can help build that bridge of trust, but only if you let me. As a black, female, mental health provider I want to represent my community within the healthcare setting.
I want African American patients to feel confident that they have someone who understands the barriers that can be in their way.