The Mental Health Crisis and the Heavy Toll on the Black Community

By Nyree Ausler

In the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic, adults suffering from mental health disorders almost tripled. For the Black community, conditions like anxiety, stress, and depression were exacerbated by economic struggles, a constant barrage of police shootings of unarmed victims, the uptick in violence inflicted on our youth, and the need to manage the ins and outs of daily life through it all.

I sat down with Kenneth Schlegel, Chief Development and Marketing Officer at Therapeutic Health Services, to talk about the trends the organization was seeing and the ways they are working to meet the needs of the local community. THS provides mental health services, substance abuse treatment, counseling, and recovery for patients in the greater Puget Sound Region. Their adult clientele is 35% African American, while the youth population is 80% Black.

Barriers to Treatment and Solutions

· Remote Work: Early in the pandemic, THS applied for and received funding to make sure clinicians were equipped to provide telehealth. In addition, Covid-safe rooms were opened for those that needed to come in person.

· Medicaid: THS is considered a Medicaid shop, with 90% of its patients utilizing the state-provided coverage. Because providers are limited in how much they can bill Medicaid, many are turning away people in need in favor of those with medical insurance that covers services at a higher rate. This has placed the burden on providers that do accept Medicaid to increase capacity. On the other side, the expansion of Medicare has leveled the playing field, allowing those that would have otherwise gone untreated, access to services they need.

· Clinician Shortage: Like most industries impacted by the Great Resignation, the mental health field is suffering. A lack of credentialed clinicians, combined with stress, burnout, and those opting to go into private practice has stepped up the need for these essential workers to increase caseload. Like many providers, Therapeutic Health Services is always looking for qualified candidates to join the team.

· The Stigma: Historically, the Black and Asian/Pacific Islander communities have shunned the idea of searching for help outside of their family or faith community. Even before the latest crisis, those seeking professional treatment has increased substantially during Kenneth’s 11-year tenure. Partnerships with faith-based organizations, schools, and increased awareness have been pivotal in reaching people in need.

· Culture: Research has shown that patients respond to and trust mental health providers whose experience resonates. THS believes in hiring “credible messengers.” In fact, the racial makeup of clinicians on staff is tailored to match the breakdown of patients by race.

But even with increased support, the massive increase in the diagnosis of serious mental disorders is alarming. For young people, that lack of social interaction and inability to celebrate milestones has led to isolation, depression and increased suicidal ideation. According to Kenneth, “Social media fans the flames,” giving kids more access to those that promote destructive ideology. Our kids are also enduring the loss of family, friends, and peers at a higher rate and experiencing the impact of so much trauma.

How Can I Help?

When dealing with people that suffer from mental health problems or substance abuse disorders, there are things that can be done to help:

· Acknowledge the Issue: It is easy to brush off certain behaviors as “drama” or require that the person just “get over it.” Accepting that your friend or family member is speaking their truth can go a long way in building trust and helping them get the help and support they need.

· Keep Communicating: Dealing with matters that you may not understand is hard. It is so much easier to ignore that situation and protect your peace. However, according to Kenneth, a simple text message could be the difference between life and death. The CDC lists connections with family, friends, and community support as one of the factors on suicide prevention. Even a short message to check in will do. Reach out to

your family and friends regularly.

· Monitor and Interact with Your Kids: With heightened risk to the mental well-being of children, it is more important than ever that we monitor and restrict internet access. Knowing what your kids are exposed to can help with deciding what actions best fit your situation. Also be available to sit down with them daily. Ask probing questions with open-ended answers. Be prepared to hear information that may trigger you but control your reactions and be supportive.

· Know When to Seek Professional Help: When speaking with Kenneth, he mentioned the term, “Compassion Fatigue.” Whether professional or personal, caregivers provide support to others and the work can be exhaustive. It is important to know when you need a break or a change in jobs. Taking care of your needs is paramount to being supportive to others.

Dealing with these matters is frustrating and rewarding at the same time. “Understand that progress is incremental,” Kenneth advises. You will successfully help many, while your efforts are futile with others. Awareness and support can go a long way in managing the mental health crisis.

Are you or someone you know in need of mental health or substance abuse services?

Therapeutic Health Services


“THS has always been a provider of services to the BIPOC community as a minority consultant partner. We have addressed the mental health and substance use needs of both the African American and Southeast Asian communities for decades. By delivering behavioral health services in schools and through strategic partnerships with other community-based organizations we are able to support the recovery needs of more and more BIPOC adults, youth, and young adults.”

Patricia Edmond-Quinn, M.Ed., CEO

King County Crisis Line:

206-461-3222 or 1-866-4CRISIS (1-866-427-4747)

Snohomish County Crisis Line:

Call 2-1-1 or the Care Crisis Line at 1-800-584-3578

King County Crisis Services: