July 16, 2019

Reducing mental illness stigma among African Americans

Nearly 50 Kaiser Permanente mental health clinicians and religious leaders discuss ways to better serve their communities.

Left to right: Chinue Brown, PsyD; Reverend Floyd Thompkins, vice president, Innovation and Online Education, San Francisco Theological Seminary; Peter Goldblum, PhD, project manager, Project Trust; Jeannie Celestial, PhD, Kaiser Permanente Vallejo psychologist and MHTP Diversity and Inclusion liaison who co-organized the event.

The overarching goal of the May 2019 “Trust and Collaboration Dialogue” meeting was to bridge the gap between clergy and mental health providers and to reduce mental illness stigma among the African American community.

The meeting was jointly organized by the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Mental Health Training Programs Diversity and Inclusion Committee and Project Trust, which is an exploratory initiative that aims to connect spiritual communities, historically marginalized groups, and mental health providers.

In the past couple of years, the regional MHTP, under the leadership of Kathryn Wetzler, PsyD, have taken a greater role in engaging in the communities that Kaiser Permanente serves in Northern California.

The importance of conversation

At the interactive and experiential “Trust and Collaboration Dialogue” meeting, participants learned about institutional and professional barriers to collaboration among faith leaders and mental health providers. They discussed the importance of earning the trust of African American community members to build rapport and provide culturally sensitive care.

Dialogue participants also explored the impact of historical harms, or trauma, on the mental health of African American clients. The dialogue aimed to improve clinicians’ and clergy’s ability to serve African American communities.

“It was so eye-opening to learn from the church pastors and from other providers about how they would handle a hypothetical client’s case,” said Chinue Brown, PsyD, a Kaiser Permanente Antioch Mental Health and Wellness Department and MHTP diversity and inclusion liaison. “It was my first time sitting down with clergy and clinicians in such an intimate and team-based way.”