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“We Ain’t Crazy!” Eliminating Disparities in Mental Health Study documents lack of access in Black population

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By Chris Levister

“It is unpleasant to admit, but many African Americans do not receive appropriate mental health services, even when they go to places that are suppose to help them. Why is that?”

It’s a question Dr. V. Diane Woods, Dr.P.H. has been asking for more than a decade. At the national Black Mental Health Workers Conference in Los Angeles Tuesday Dr. Woods, president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County (AAHI-SBC) rolled out a 300 plus page report that paints a damning picture of how more than half of African American mental health sufferers receive little or no treatment…but account for a high rate of involuntary commitments.

One third of families have a member who is currently suffering from a mental illness, they say. It accounts for nearly half of absenteeism at work and mental illness accounts for nearly half of people on incapacity benefits. Why are some people not understood? California’s African American residents were interviewed and given the opportunity to share their real experiences with getting help with mental issues,” said Dr. Woods.

“We Ain’t Crazy! Just Coping with a Crazy System: Pathways to Eliminating Mental Health Disparities in the Black Population,” is the comprehensive report of this 2-year long African American study that sought to answer one major question: What are community practices Black people believe would help them have good mental health? As well as, how are mental issues prevented from occurring in Black people?” Respondents say the stigma associated with mental issues, according to respondents, produced shame and embarrassment, which often determined if individuals sought help. "The thought of being labeled `crazy' and not normal rendered many black people psychologically paralyzed," the report said.

“In addition, having a mental issue is embarrassing. Most people do not recognize when they need help, and when they do, most people do not feel comfortable in asking for help with a mental issue,” said Woods.

Dr. Woods is the principal investigator, for a statewide team of Black strategic planning workgroup members tasked to develop a major statewide policy initiative to improve access and quality of care, as well as increase positive outcomes for historically underserved communities and ethnic and cultural population groups. “There were 1,195 individuals who participated in the African American study. Community-based participatory research methods were used that included 15 key informant interviews, 35 focus group meetings, 43 one-on-one interviews, 635 surveys, 5 case studies, 6 small group meetings and 10 public meetings. Individuals participated from over 30 California counties.

The research was contracted to AAHI-SBC through The California Department of Mental Health (DMH), in partnership with the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC) and funded by the Mental Health Service Act, Prop 63.

AAHI-SBC is a non-profit 501 (c) 3 grassroots community-based organization. It was awarded the $411,052 contract to conduct the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP) for the African American population. Funds were made possible by the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) of 2004.

The statewide initiative was called the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP), and focused on five populations that have the largest number of underserved individuals. The report provided important recommendations to address these shortcomings and to make quality mental health treatment a reality for all Americans. This report gave voice to thousands of African Americans who faced this grim reality. It also created an opportunity for people around the region to advocate for real change.

Mental health charities and specialists welcomed the report. Riverside psychiatrist Richard T. Kotomori Jr. M.D. specializes in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

“We are at an all-time low in the response of mental health services to people with severely disabling mental illness. While the Government has put money into psychological therapies, on the other hand resources are being drained from the fundamental care and treatment of people in crisis, those in need of in-patient care such as the suicidal, and those in the community where the cuts are depriving them of the few things that make their lives more tolerable, such as day centers, clubs, activities and occupation,” said Kotomori.

California psychologist Gloria Morrow contends that the distrust and stigma that blacks feel about mental-health treatment stem in part from difficulty in finding a therapist to whom they can comfortably relate. African Americans comprise less than 2% of licensed psychiatrists in California and less than 4% of mental-health providers nationally. Mental-health practitioners "don't 'get it' when they are working with people who don't look like them," she insists.

One effect is to shift sufferers into care settings not designed for recurring disorders such as depression. "We know that people are going to emergency rooms because of the stigma of going to a counselor," she explains.

They also experience difficulty in talking about their problems, especially to non-blacks. There is often a gulf of mistrust that is fed by both sides. A lack of knowledge has had a particularly negative impact on diagnosis and treatment. Blacks are more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than with depression, and this is especially the case if they have manic depression. In the past, blacks have been offered antidepressant medication far less frequently than whites.

And despite evidence suggesting that blacks may metabolize psychiatric medications more slowly than whites, thus requiring lower dosages, they are often given higher dosages; as a result they experience more severe side effects than do whites, frequently prompting them to stop treatment altogether.

In 2001 former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher released Culture, Race and Ethnicity.

A Supplement to Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. This landmark report documented the lack of access and the poor quality of mental health care that people of color had been receiving when dealing with mental illness.

“Unfortunately, there has been little progress in overcoming barriers to treatment and in improving access and quality of care for communities of color,” said Woods. “Much still needs to be done to make access and recovery from mental illness a reality for all Americans.”

San Bernardino declares state of fiscal emergency

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Road back to solvency will likely be a bumpy one

By Chris Levister

The San Bernardino City Council on Wednesday voted 5-2 in favor of moving forward with declaring bankruptcy after finding that a cash flow situation is so dire that a fiscal emergency exists.

The declaration comes after the city announced last week that it would seek Chapter 9 protection, making it the third California city in recent weeks to make the rare move. The city's next step will be to create a short-term budget to allow it to continue operations until they come up with a long-term solution. That budget is expected to be presented to the City Council at a special session scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday. The vote was followed by another authorizing the city attorney to file for bankruptcy, which could come in the next 30 days.

Councilmen Chas Kelley and John Valdivia dissented on both votes. Councilman Fred Shorett, who voted against bankruptcy last week, reversed his position Wednesday night and approved both moves.

"The horse is out of the barn – the whole world knows we're insolvent," Shorett said, according to the San Bernardino Sun. "I will be supporting going forward with Chapter 9 and fiscal emergency." Declining tax revenue, growing worker costs, accounting discrepancies, political infighting and an almost 12 percent unemployment rate in the San Bernardino area helped drive the insolvency. Sixth Ward Councilman Rikke Van Johnson called the formal vote “sad but necessary.” He joined the majority in authorizing the court filing, which councilmen Chas Kelley and John Valdivia voted against.

The city will be looking to slash non-essential services to shore up its $45 million deficit. Public library services may be on the chopping block, even as residents have been using the library's resources to file for unemployment and look for jobs online more than ever, according to library employees.

"We've been cut every year so far since 2008," said library circulation manager Debra Bemben. "I believe we use to have 36 full-time people to run the four branches, now we have 11." The city's dire financial outlook also has residents worried about other services from street repairs to regular trash pickup.

The city says it is still paying all its vendors, but in cash since its credit is no longer accepted. That has added pressure to the city's cash flow problem.

For now, there is no disruption of city services, but employees say they will be on pins and needles until they know more about their future.

San Bernardino confronts a deficit that has reached $45.8 million on a general fund of $129.4 million and would probably run out of money before the end of the state-required 60-day negotiation period, Andrea Travis-Miller, the interim city manager, said July 16. The emergency declaration lets the city skip mediation under California law.

The city has depleted its general-fund reserves, lost access to capital markets, has had its credit lines frozen by Wells Fargo & Co. and must pay cash for goods and services, according to Morris and Travis-Miller. Also, the city faces a $3.4 million payment for employee pensions on July 20.

San Bernardino is set to become the third municipality in California to seek protection from its creditors since late June. Stockton and the ski resort city of Mammoth Lakes have already filed in bankruptcy court.

A fourth city, Compton on the outskirts of Los Angeles, could be the next city to turn to bankruptcy protection.

Compton will run out of cash to make its payroll on September 1, a city official said.

Remembering Herman Carpenter, Sr.

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The life of Herman W. Carpenter, Sr., was recently celebrated at his home church, Park Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, with family and friends fondly remembering this great man. Carpenter was born in Camden, New Jersey. He was an only child, raised by his mother Lena, grandmother Irene and great-grandfather. He attended Hosanna African Methodist Episcopal Church in Camden and accepted Christ at a young age.

Carpenter excelled academically as well as in track and football. He was awarded the MVP award during his senior year in high school. He was awarded a full scholarship to Maryland State College and earned his B.A. from Chapman College. On June 2, 1954, he married Beatrice (Bea) Thornton in Glassboro, New Jersey. After the wedding, the couple moved to Riverside, where Carpenter was stationed at March AFB. In the following years, Carpenter took in seven of Bea’s eight siblings as they slowly migrated from New Jersey to California.

After serving six years in the Air Force, Carpenter was honorably discharged in 1960. That year, he joined the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, becoming the 2nd African American to be hired as a sworn Deputy Sheriff in Riverside and the 1st African American to be promoted to Investigator. He worked many assignments, including Commander of the Crime Lab. After a 20-year career with the Sheriff’s Department, Carpenter retired at the rank of Lieutenant. He then worked as a supervisor for the San Bernardino County Probation Department, Juvenile Hall, where he also served on the Spiritual Concerns Committee. After 13-years, Carpenter retired from Probation and became a licensed realtor, working for Devonne Armstrong Realty, Coldwell Banker and Prudential.

Carpenter was an active member of Park Avenue Missionary Baptist Church in Riverside, serving on the Layman Committee and establishing many lifelong friends. He was a member of the Martin Luther King Senior’s Club and the Riverside African American Historical Society. In prior years, Carpenter served as a community volunteer in various capacities including Boy Scouts Commissioner and coach for the little league and junior tackle. He was very active in sports and played semi-pro baseball. Carpenter’s greatest joy came from spending time with his family, cooking, traveling and watching sports. He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Beatrice; three sons, Herman Jer., Harold and Michael; daughter Michelle; granddaughter Ashleigh Merchant; great-grandson Jaedyn; six sisters-in-law, two brothers-in-law, and a host of cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. His mother, Lena Collins preceded him in death.

FDA approves first rapid, take-home HIV test

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Some HIV/AIDS experts and survivors insist for the first-time tester, the clinic is the best place

By Chris Levister

Americans will soon be able to test themselves in the privacy of their own homes for the virus that causes AIDS, now that the Food and Drug Administration has approved the first rapid, over-the-counter HIV test. The OraQuick test detects the presence of HIV antibodies using a mouth swab and returns a result in 20 to 40 minutes.

Government officials estimate that about 240,000 people, or one-fifth of the roughly 1.2 million people carrying HIV in the U.S., don't know they are infected. Testing is a chief means of slowing new infections, which have held steady at about 50,000 per year for two decades.

FDA officials said the test is designed for people who might not otherwise get tested. "The availability of a home-use HIV test kit provides another option for individuals to get tested so that they can seek medical care, if appropriate," said Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. Orasure plans to start selling the test in October, both online and through retailers like Walgreens, CVS and Walmart.

It hasn't set a price yet but expects the consumer version to cost less than $60 but more than the one marketed to health professionals, which costs about $17.50. CEO Doug Michels said the price increase will help pay for a toll-free call center to provide counseling and medical referrals to test users.

The company's marketing efforts will focus on populations at greatest risk of being infected with HIV, including gay and bisexual men, African Americans and Hispanics. Over 46 percent of Americans who have been diagnosed with HIV since 1981 have been African American. And although AIDS diagnoses and deaths have declined substantially in the United States since the mid-1990s with the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), African Americans have continued to be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in numbers disproportionate to their percentage of the population.

The FDA stressed in its approval announcement that the test is not 100 percent accurate in identifying people with the virus. A trial conducted by test maker Orasure showed OraQuick detected HIV in those carrying the virus only 92 percent of the time, though it was 99.9 percent accurate in ruling out HIV in patients not carrying the virus. That means the test could miss one in 12 HIV-infected people who use it but would incorrectly identify only one patient as having HIV for every 5,000 HIV-negative people tested, the FDA said.

People who test negative should get re-tested after three months, because it can take several weeks for detectable antibodies to HIV to appear, according to Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's HIV unit. The FDA has approved several other HIV test kits designed for home use, but they usually require a blood sample that must be sent to a laboratory for development.

HIV awareness groups hailed the approval as an important step in expanding testing for the virus. "This test will allow anyone to empower themselves to know their HIV status when, how and with whom they want to," said Tom Donohue, founding director of Who's Positive. But some HIV/AIDS experts and survivors say OraSure could lead to more people knowing their status but fear those who learn they have the virus won’t get counseling, care. Carla Bailey is a mother of six who has been battling full blown AIDS since 1992. When she first tested positive all sorts of things went through her head. “Well, first, it was an extreme sense of denial, that I wasn't infected, that there was a serious mistake because I had no symptoms. I guess my first rational thoughts were ‘oh my God my whole world is crashing’,” said Bailey. “I was in a state of shock. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell my family – I lapsed into a state of severe depression for three years.

Initially, we lost everything - house, cars, all of it. I lost my job, I couldn't work. It was quite literally a living hell,” she said. “I was having trouble with medications, I was lucky to have my older sister, who is a health care professional and she walked me through a lot of this stuff, even the crying in the middle of the night.

A diagnosis of HIV is not the kind of news you want to learn at home in your bathroom with no available counseling care.” Bailey says despite her concerns, the hope is in-home testing could lead to more people knowing their HIV status and, in turn, earlier intervention. “I strongly encourage people to get tested – that said, one size does not fit everyone. If you choose not to go to a clinic, have a family member or close friend at your side when you do the first home test.”

Bailey says she fears a dangerous disconnect if people get a positive diagnosis and don’t follow up with a confirming blood test. On the other hand she said a negative result could lead to a false sense of security. “It’s a slippery slope.”

Decorated Serviceman and Deacon Willie Evans Remembered

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Evans was born January 15, 1925 in Brenham, Texas to Melinda Winston and Willie Evans, Sr. He was the youngest of three children. At the young age of 18, he decided to enlist in the armed forces. Evans proudly served his country with the U.S. Navy. He served in several wars including World War, II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict to which he received many awards and commendations for his bravery. He achieved a stellar 28-year naval career.

In 1966, Evans was extended the Armed Forces Community Award in 1984 and 1985, acknowledged for outstanding and valuable service to the San Diego Consistory. As an E-9 Master Chief in the military, he received many honors, awards, commendations and salutations but the most memorable and monumental of all was surrendering his life to Jesus Christ uniting with the Pilgrim Progressive Baptist Church of San Diego under the pastorate of the late Rev. Marvin Hines. He was not only a highly decorated serviceman, but a tender loving father as well. While still in the military, Evans executed a most noble gesture by taking leave from the Navy and journeying back to Texas to retrieve his one and half year old daughter La Trecee to bring her back to San Diego and raise her as a single father. By her testimony, it was only because of the fact that Evans was such a nurturing, involved, disciplining and supportive single parent that she has become who she is today. There never came a day that he did not tell her that he loved her and that he would always be there for her.

He was a dedicated husband as well. In 1979, he met the love of his life Ella Kenniebrew, but because both parties continuously stated they were not ready, they did not marry until 2001. When they finally married, Evans decided to make up for lost time by loving Ella with affection and aggression for the balance of his living days.

Evans took great pleasure in serving on the local, state, and national level. The Western Baptist State Convention, Pilgrim Progressive Baptist Church and the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church of San Bernardino, appreciated and recognized Evans as a convention laymen president on both the state and national levels, Bible instructor, deacon and state convention treasurer. Also, the Western Baptist State Convention Layman Mass Choir was organized under his presidency. Evans was also an active member of the AFM (Prince Hall) GA Thomas where he served as Master Mason.

Evans was an active and faithful member of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino. He leaves to cherish his memory, his loving wife Ella Evans; daughter La Trecee Evans; stepson William Kenniebrew; stepdaughter Glenda Gilbert; grandson, Tas Jioan Brown of San Diego, one sister Ethel Hubbard of Pontiac, Michigan; two nieces and two nephews, and a host of family and friends.

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BVN National News Wire