RACIAL EQUITY

UPCOMING EVENT:

For more information and to register, go to Eventbrite

Recent report on Intersection of Ethnicity and SMI in America

Recent Treatment Advocacy Center report describes problem: 

“People from ethnic minority groups who have serious mental illness can face double discrimination due to the combination of their race and their illness. In a recent study from The Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, researchers called this intersection of identities “Double Jeopardy,” referring to the idea that racial discrimination and serious mental illness combine to have a negative impact on a person’s life that is greater than the impact of either of these alone.”  [click to continue reading article]

Two FASMI Members on MHAAC African American Family Outreach Project Committee

Margot Dashiell, chair of the outreach project’s steering committee, believes that care giving for those with mental illness and/or substance abuse requires a learning journey. She attributes her personal growth as a caregiver to years of attending support groups, listening to speakers, reading, and advocating with other families for good services. For her work in family organizing and advocacy she was voted into the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame in 2009. She is a retired community college instructor.   

Viveca Bradley knows the life, struggles, and loss of a family member with serious mental illness. A member of the AAFOP Steering Committee since its inaugural workshop in 2017, and a retired architect and city planner, her skills help develop an accurate timeline for the workshop events. She says, “I am proud of the special collaborative effort and passion of the team’s commitment to the Africa American caregiver community.”

Excerpt from newsletter:
What is the African American Family Outreach Project?

Headed by five African American family caregiver-volunteers, the AAFOP Steering Committee presents workshops drawn from their lived experience facing loved ones with mental illness. In 2017, when the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care agency saw fit to fund a support project for African American families, it turned to the leadership of the African American Family Support Group sponsored by the Mental Health Association of Alameda County. With Steve Bischoff, its Executive Director at the time, and the support group facilitator, Margot Dashiell, the initial five public workshops a year model emerged. A recent program expansion now also includes presentations by resource people at smaller family support group meetings.

At the larger Saturday public meetings, the steering committee continues to recruit psychiatrists, psychologists, substance abuse counselors and others who offer vital information on symptoms of mental illness, uses of medication, treatments for substance abuse and information on the range of support services available in Alameda County.  The free workshops also emphasize the special importance of self-care in when facing stressful circumstances. 

[The program is currently administered by FERC, where family advocates are available to follow up with caregivers on a longer-term basis. FERC and AFOP are programs of the MHAAC. [The newsletter also mentions Greg Redmond as a member]

The next AAFOP workshop is scheduled for Saturday, December 3, 2022. This online event is free. The session opens at 9:30 a.m. and the program begins at 9:45. To register please call 510-697-8533 or register online at:  https://bit.ly/AAFOPDecember2022

An Untenable Space: The Dilemma of Black Families Caring for a Loved one with Severe Mental Illness and an Argument for a Legislative Solution

Excerpt from a Texas Law Review article written by members of Treatment Advocacy Center [read entire article]:

Spring, 2021  |  Reporter  |  53 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 575 |    Author:  Sabah H. Muhammad (Legislative & Policy Counsel at the Treatment Advocacy Center. She is a licensed Georgia Attorney and holds a J.D. from the Florida A&M University College of Law. This Article is based on a presentation she gave on Nov. 20, 2020 at the Texas Tech Law Review Mental Health Law Symposium. The first person perspectives in the opening paragraphs are from Ms. Muhammad) and  J. Michael E. Gray (Legislative & Policy Counsel at the Treatment Advocacy Center and part of the General Studies faculty at Simmons College of Kentucky. He holds a J.D. from the Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville).

* * *

Does a Black mother call the police on her son, who is ill, and have him charged with a crime? Does she leave him there and go to work? Does she miss work and, having no prior training or experience with mental illness, try to address the crisis? These are the choices. This is the untenable space. I became an advocate when I realized we were not only expected to trudge through life this way but were legally prevented from saving our family.

Families taking care of a loved one with an untreated severe mental illness carry a burden that throws them into a daily existence of fight or flight, where they don’t live, but navigate from crisis to crisis. Severe mental illness is all consuming; loved ones, like my brother, who lack the ability to volunteer for services or resources remain trapped in their own delusions and unable to make choices for themselves. Laws require us to watch as our loved ones languish untreated and fall into an abyss of refusing to bathe, eat or speak for weeks at a time; and somehow at the last possible minute, when they or someone else is on the brink of death, our only tool is to call the police.

Black families dealing with SMI embody an especially difficult predicament because of a documented higher likelihood of harm from police interaction with people who are Black and living with SMI. 1The tools the police wield are especially troubling. At our loved ones’ most vulnerable moments, we are forced to call officers who may have no SMI de-escalation or racial bias training. Instead of medical equipment, they respond to a vulnerable person, likely already hallucinating, with blinding flashing lights, handcuffs, and horribly, guns.

* * *

The apprehension that Black family members feel toward involving law enforcement–a feeling of added risk to everyone in the household but particularly a relative with SMI in the home–is not built on mere assumption or anecdote. While all family members experience the aforementioned risks to their relatives when law enforcement officers respond to their homes, the risk of death to a person with mental illness when confronted by police is 30.8% higher if the person is Black as opposed to White.

Several studies have examined police use of force with the mentally ill and Black people, and looked for overlapping propensity of officers to use deadly force and the public’s perception of such uses of force. They found results that give credence to Black family members’ reluctance to involve law enforcement even though their loved one with SMI poses a risk of harm to themselves or others in the home. Not only is a Black individual with SMI more likely to experience deadly force in police encounters, but according to one troubling result found by Drs. Kimberly Barsamian Kahn, Melissa Thompson, and Jean M. McMachon, the public’s support for use of force with such individuals is higher compared to the use of force with White mentally ill individuals:

Mental illness may signal to the public that police officers should take into account this condition as a mitigating factor, potentially by approaching with different de-escalation tactics, and ultimately avoid escalating to force. However, Black suspects did not receive the same level of public protection regarding mental illness status, with mental illness histories instead increasing public support for police force, although the levels of support were still low overall. That is, individuals were relatively more supportive of force toward Black suspects when mental illness was involved.

Therefore, not only does objective data show a higher likelihood of a mentally ill Black suspect being killed by law enforcement, but public opinion itself necessitates a Black family exercising a higher level of scrutiny on their own pending decision when there is a psychiatric crisis in the home. Black families have good reason to hesitate in calling law enforcement, even when they know it is the only viable option. It is this hesitation–that rational reluctance to invite law enforcement into the home–that puts Black families in an even more difficult position than other families struggling with a relative in need of immediate treatment for SMI. Civil commitment laws deny most Texas families the chance to obtain treatment for a relative before SMI symptoms reach the point of crisis.  They must wait until a deeply personal crisis necessitates law enforcement involvement. For Black families, that time of waiting constitutes living in an untenable space.

WHY WE NEED TO FIGHT FOR RACIAL EQUITY,  by Katy Polony, December 2021

As a white woman I’m going to feel a little awkward making this statement, but I also think it’s appropriate for white folk to be vocal and not just leave this fight to those most directly impacted.  In our work as advocates, members FASMI have to fight for one another as well as for our own families.

In order to win this fight for treatment and care for our loved ones, we must address the inequities of this “mental health” system of ours. These inequities are a result of literally centuries of systemic racism.  It’s no surprise that homelessness would be more prevalent among those who have been redlined or subjected to discriminatory, or no-lending practices for generations. And why wouldn’t incarceration weigh heaviest on those subjected to discriminatory drug laws, to lack of legal representation and equity in the court system, and to deadly policing. Inequality exists in every aspect of our society, from employment to food availability, from education to health care – and particularly to mental heath care.

We families come together sharing a deep connection from our shared grief, pain and anger. But we cannot fail to address  this situation as described by Decarcerate Alameda County in its 2020 Policy and Budget Proposal:

Racial inequities in Alameda County’s criminal justice and mental health systems are rampant.  Because of structural racism, despite Black residents making up just 11% of Alameda County’s population, half of the homeless and jail populations are Black.  That same trend applies to people in psychiatric institutions.  Of the hundreds of people in Alameda County placed in psychiatric institutions 10 or more times since 2018, 55% are Black.  The convergence of a viral pandemic disproportionately killing Black and Brown people, police shootings of Black people, an escalating economic crisis with sky-rocketing unemployment, and increasing rates of anxiety and suicide has confirmed what most of us already know:  racism persists today, and Black Lives will only Matter when we finally choose to make it so.

Because of racism in law enforcement, families of color are particularly afraid to call 911. Poor folks are more at risk of losing their housing if they care for their loved ones at home.  Racial minorities with SMI are more likely to be arrested rather than 5150’d.  At the same time, a disproportionate number of Blacks are 5150’d, revolving through PES as well as Santa Rita Jail, and released with no meaningful treatment or supportive housing to go to.

If we fail to address these realities, then we won’t succeed in building the multi-racial, multicultural, grassroots family organization we need.  We need such an organization to stand up and call attention, in every way we can, to the plight of our loved ones.

We have to do more than give lip service. We need to continue to support decarceration of the mentally ill from jails, along with adequate treatment and housing for those leaving jail.  We must call for implicit bias training for the police.

What else can we do? Should we call for extra housing security for those families with SMI loved ones living in Section 8 or subsidized housing? These families are especially vulnerable and find it even harder to care for their loved ones out of fear of losing their housing.

One final observation: Although the pain of SMI, homelessness and incarceration is spread throughout all races, it falls hardest on the poor and non-white. I live in Oakland and work with the SMI and families in the southern part of Alameda County.  It seems to us providers that there is a not-always-subtle push on the part of the wealthier communities and the police, to send the homeless to Oakland. This kind of insidious racism – which is less visible than the obvious kinds of discrimination described above – must also be called out and we will need to follow through on seeking reform