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Addressing Mental Health Services Mistrust In The Black Community With $280 Million

By Shakera Moreland 

  • The U.S. government launches first nationwide three-digit mental health crisis hotline, 988, and provided over $280M for states to build up their systems
  • Lack of access to mental health care feeds into the 2 out of 3 African-Americans who don’t receive services when they need it

This summer the U.S. saw the establishment and go-live of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Medicaid program, it will be administered through Vibrant Emotional Health that will funnel over $280 million to states to support the expansion of the program. The timing is seemingly perfect, as the pandemic has exacerbated mental health and substance abuse problems throughout the country. In fact, Hispanic and Black people, the unemployed, and essential workers have been more likely to report mental health issues during this period than the general population.

Why This Matters: Although the program appears to be noble in purpose and helps to reduce calls to the police-focused 911 system, there are understandable concerns about how removed the system will be from police altogether. A 2021 report showed that police are more likely to kill unarmed Black men exhibiting signs of mental illness than white men. 

Furthermore, there are issues of medical distrust and fear of being improperly held within mental wards or incarcerated within jails. These circumstances, coupled with the lack of access to mental health care, feed into the two out of three African-Americans who don’t receive services when they need it.

Situational Awareness: It will be imperative to rebuild trust, particularly in communities of color, and distinguish the difference between 911 and 988. Not only should work be done on a community network level, but also through partnerships with faith-based institutions. This hotline can be reached by calling or texting the 3-digit number 988 which will connect callers to one of 200 state and local call centers.

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