Mental Health Awareness Stock Photo

Buffalo News Opinion: Inequities in Mental Health Care Are Shocking and Deep-Rooted

Satcher Health Leadership Institute study found lapses in mental health care
cost an estimated 117,000 lives and approximately $278 billion.

By Sara I. Taylor, The Buffalo News

While we are seeing a national spotlight on mental health and suicide, there are hundreds of local stories regarding mental health inequities that remain untold, unseen, and unknown for various personal, cultural, or systemic reasons.

As a Black parent, living this three-year journey – in and out of psychiatric emergency rooms, multiple mental hygiene arrests, various levels of residential and outpatient services – has given me an up-close and personal view and perspective of the current children’s mental health crisis. Watching my child struggle through a mental health crisis over the last few years is heart-wrenching and comes with unimaginable pain, guilt, blame and shame. Visiting psychiatric emergency rooms and watching how deep-rooted system inequities negatively impact Black and brown children, is shocking as well as painful.

Prior to Covid-19 and the Buffalo massacre, the mental health system was already vulnerable, broken, and unable to fully meet the needs of our children. We now have a national crisis where large health care systems, mental health professionals and stakeholders are running to react by developing performative check-the-box advisory boards, task forces and pouring money into a system that has already failed our children – especially children of color and families living in poverty.

Even before the pandemic, suicide rates among Black youths were climbing faster than in any other racial group, surging by 60% among Black males 10 to 19 years old. The Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine released the first-ever report in September 2022 demonstrating the devastating cost of mental health inequities: "The Economic Burden of Mental Health Inequities in the United States Report" which found that nearly 117,000 lives and approximately $278 billion could have been saved.

My experience navigating a system full of inequities pushed me to elevate my voice to help other Black parents and caregivers like myself who see this crisis through a different lens. Our children are often criminalized for their condition with little societal sympathy and targeted funding investments. We are experts living this journey daily and should be trusted to lead conversations and strategies.

Since the fall of 2021, Partners in Community Development Inc. has partnered with Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers and BestSelf Behavioral Health to address mental health inequities through our Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) PEEEEEEK parent-led mental health project, which offers peer support, education, provider training, advocacy and anti-stigma awareness