Shadale Jacobs Works to Stop the Stigma around Mental Illness in Black Communities

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — July 9, 2019 — 4 min read
The stigma around mental illness, especially in the black and African American community, can make getting help difficult for many, said Shadale Jacobs, Cardinal Innovations Healthcare’s Access Call Center Manager and Veteran Point of Contact.

“My hope is that my role as a minority mental health professional will help encourage my peers to see mental health treatment as less taboo and more as a necessity,” she said.

Jacobs participates in the Black Mental Health Symposium in Charlotte, N.C., on an annual basis to focus on the mental health issues affecting specifically black or African American men and women in this country. One message she wants to get across is that mental illness is not a sign of weakness.

“It is quite the opposite,” she said. “It takes a lot of strength to recognize you need help and then even more strength to stand up and do something about it. Within the African American community a common statement is made, ‘Just pray about it.’ I believe in both prayer and therapy, and that together they can help individuals navigate various issues and concerns that pose a threat to their own mental health.”

Cardinal Innovations’ Access Call Center often receives requests from members who want a therapist of a specific ethnicity, but provider profiles do not list the race of the therapists, Jacobs said.

“We must go the extra mile to find out what we can, in order to meet the member’s request,” she said. “It is important to recognize the request is representative of how that member has chosen to make themselves comfortable with the process and we should not present as a barrier for them.”

Perceptions also play a major role in the mental health of minority individuals and also how and when they seek help, Jacobs said.

“The perceptions of others definitely impact my mental health. I stress over what someone may think of me, I stress over if someone thinks I’m doing enough or holding my weight, and I stress over how my interactions with others may have affected them,” she said. “All of that stress manifests in various ways, therefore, creating anxiety. Ignored or untreated anxiety can cause issues within your daily activities and ultimately becoming a bigger concern then when it first presented itself in your life.” 

Jacobs, who also works closely with veterans as part of her job, said the perceptions about military personnel and veterans and the stigma around mental illness can play a big role in whether or not veterans seek help.

“There is already a stigma associated with mental health in general, but when you add in other factors, such as being a minority or a minority veteran, it increases that stigma significantly,” she said.

Racial and ethnic minority groups made up 40 percent of the Defense Department’s active duty military in 2015, which is up from 25 percent in 1990, according to a Pew Research Report from 2017. Of those members of the military, 17 percent were black and 12 percent Hispanic/Latino.

“Minorities often have greater challenges because, in some respects, they are seen by the majority as less than or less deserving and that alone plays a major part in the mental health of a minority individual. They are often left with the feeling that they have something to prove,” she said. “Now add in being a minority veteran, and not only are you dealing with the perception of others that you are less than or less deserving, now as a member of the military, you have to show no fear and be the poster child for strength and courage. The perception is that the need for mental health treatment is the opposite of that.”

This can perpetuate negative feelings and make the individual feel alone and isolated or even like an outcast, she said.

Great strides have been made in recent years to reduce the stigma in the military, but the fear of being seen as not fit for duty also plays a major role for minority veterans, and veterans in general, to not seek mental health care. So, there’s still work to be done, Jacobs said.
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