A Racial Divide for Mental Health Care Exists in Virginia

August 4, 2017 | By Michael Pope

For years, lawmakers in Virginia have struggled to find ways to expand mental health care — with mixed results. A new report from the Commonwealth Institute finds a racial divide in terms of who gets help.

Blacks and Latinos have less access to mental health care in Virginia. And blacks experience worse outcomes from treatment than whites.

Those are the conclusions of a new report from the Commonwealth Institute. Laura Goren is research director at the institute, and she says one way to fix the problem is more money. Specifically, she would like to see funding for all the recommendations of the task force convened after state Senator Creigh Deeds’ son killed himself after attacking the senator — $184 million.

“While that is a significant amount of money, it is a critical service that we need in order to make sure people can get care as soon as they need it and not wait until it becomes an emergency and people end up in the jails or the mental health hospitals.”

Frank Shafroth at George Mason University says the future of mental health funding — for minorities and everybody else — is particularly at risk right now.

“One of the important provisions of the Affordable Care Act was it created the largest expansion of mental health and substance disorder treatment in a generation. Well now, you and I have no idea what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act.”

Aside from increased funding, the Commonwealth Institute has two other recommendations for increasing mental health services for blacks and Latinos — training providers in cultural competency and creating a pipeline from historically black colleges and universities to increase the number of minority mental health practitioners.

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