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Hi everyone! Welcome to the latest episode of Black Voices of Mental Health. This week we’re covering a very important topic: Health Equity.
In case you missed it last week, we talked about the effects of Scientific Racism on the US Mental Healthcare System. In that article we talked about how the long, insidious reach of this dangerous pseudoscience is still felt today.
Today it comes in the form of systemic inequality in healthcare. This inequity leads to higher rates of preventable disease in BIPOC communities. It also leads to misdiagnoses, higher infant mortality rates, and shorter life expectancy for people of color.
What does Health Inequity Look Like?
Health inequity is pretty insidious but if you look, you’ll notice it’s all around us. We see the effects of it everyday but don’t necessarily connect the dots.
Health inequity looks like a tuberculosis outbreak or higher rates of diabetes in Black women. It looks like Serena Williams almost dying after giving birth because her health concerns were dismissed by white hospital staff.
It manifests itself as a Black man being diagnosed with schizophrenia instead of a lesser mood disorder. And a psychiatrist refusing to change that diagnosis, even in light of evidence to the contrary.
Yes, health inequity is everywhere. And it looks a lot like the every day BIPOC experience with healthcare.
Who is Working to Produce Better Health Equity?
Luckily, there are so many great initiatives working to end the inequity in healthcare. I could fill a whole page with their efforts. However, it’s most important to highlight the organizations led by BIPOC activists.
So let’s take a look!
Black Women’s Health Imperative
The Black Women’s Health Imperative has been around for over 30 years. It is a collective created and led by Black women. Their aim is to make amazing health a reality for all Black women and girls.
Through signature programs like Change Your Lifestyle (Change Your Life) BWHI is fighting soaring rates of diabetes. They do this by pairing women (and men) with life coaches who empower them to adopt a healthy lifestyle. They also provide an avenue for women to become a Lifestyle Coaches themselves.
BWHI also features programs that uplift young women to be health forward leaders in their communities and beyond.
They also provide the On Our Own Terms initiative. OOOT was created to empower cis and trans BIPOC in their fight against HIV.
Finally, BWHI advocates for the health of Black women by shaping policy and encouraging voter participation.
Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative
Founded in 2003, the Greensboro Health Disparities Collaborative was created by community organizers in Greensboro, SC. It was created in response to the community’s concern that Black patients were dying of cancer at a much higher rate than White patients.
Working with researchers from UNC, GHDC and the Partnership Project developed the Cancer Care and Racial Equity Study (CCARES).
This eventually grew into a larger study that strongly evidenced racial disparities in the care of breast cancer patients. It was a huge win for the grassroots organization, empowering organizers to take on racial injustice in the healthcare system on a whole new level.
Now GDHC is using that data to develop more in depth research and change policy. They also provide workshops on racial equity through the Partnership Project.
The Okra Project
The Okra Project is fighting health disparities by providing free, healthy, home cooked meals to Black Trans people. They also facilitate food delivery to Black Trans members of the community experiencing homelessness.
Created by performer and activist Ianne Fields Stewart, the Okra project aims to bring visibility to the specific health needs of the Black Trans community. Members of this community disproportionately experience hunger, which negatively impacts their physical, mental, and spiritual health.
And since health doesn’t have just one dimension, the Okra Project also helps people #feedthesoul. They do this by creating accessible healing spaces where Black Trans people can relax, gather, and learn.
An incredible component to their programming is the #By Okra series. This initiative connects Black Trans Men, Trans Women and Non-Binary folx with free beauty services. This helps Black Trans people to reclaim their right to relax and feel beautiful, an important facet of wellness that often overlooks the Trans experience.
The Okra Project also facilitates the International Grocery Fund (IGF) which helps folx urgently in need of food. If you’d like to donate to the IGF please click here!
These are just three of the many organizations fighting health disparities in the US. There are so many more. But even with all of that, there’s still a problem:
Studies show that even when BIPOC have health insurance and decent access to healthcare, their health outcomes are still much poorer than white cohorts. This means we have a lot more work to do when it comes to culturally informed care.
What can you do about it?
If you’re a physician or mental health practitioner, consider these ideas to eliminate disparities in your practice. If you’re a concerned citizen – vote for leaders who press healthcare reform. Be knowledgable and gain a good understanding of the social determinants of health. Get involved with grassroots community and public health initiatives like the Partnership Project.
These are just a few steps that make a big difference in the world of healthcare equity. It may seem like an overwhelming problem; but if we all work together there’s no telling how many lives we can save.
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