What the 988 call line could mean for WA’s Black communities

Mental health in the Black community 

Lack of representation, stigma and financial barriers may all be playing into the disconnect between communities of color and the mental health system. 

“I’m aware of the lack of representation in the mental health community,” said Swann of the Seattle King County NAACP, who also works as a therapist. “Especially in Washington, where it’s definitely hard to find a counselor of color for a lot of folks that they can relate to.” 

Black people made up less than 5% of the U.S. psychology workforce in 2020, according to the American Psychological Association, while Census data shows they make up more than 13% of the U.S. population. 

“There’s a lot of stigma,” said Swann of the NAACP about the view communities of color have toward the mental health system. “You were raised in a family basically to not speak to people about things that are going on in your house.” 

Having more counselors of color available may make it easier for people to work past that stigma, Swann said.

Beyond the cultural and social hurdles, more than 10% of Black Americans were uninsured in 2020 compared to 5.4% of white Americans, 5.9% of Asian Americans and 18.3% of Hispanic Americans. In Washington, nearly 8% of Black residents were uninsured in 2019. This lack of coverage can mean those seeking mental health support have to pay out of pocket for the services.  

Breaking down these barriers may be crucial for Black communities, who have experienced increasing suicide rates in recent years: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide rates increased by 4% for Black Americans between 2019 and 2020 and, according to the Office of Minority Health, suicide was the second leading cause of death in 2019 for people ages 15 to 24 who identified as Black. 

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