MILWAUKEE — Simone Kilgore, a counselor in Milwaukee, says because of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most challenging issues people are facing in the city and across the country is finding a mental health service provider.
"We really, really need more, we desperately need more. The need for services is on the rise. We can’t meet the needs of all, but we are trying our best to do that," said Kilgore.
But she says what’s also on the rise is the need for mental health service providers of color.
"Right now in Milwaukee, the wait list for Black clinicians is off the charts. There’s just a shortage of Black therapists, and it probably will be for many years to come," said Kilgore.
According to the American Psychological Association, in the country 83% of psychologists are white, 6% are Hispanic, and only 3% are Black.
Veronica Powell, a nurse practitioner in telepsychiatry, says for Black Americans in Milwaukee, finding a mental health provider that looks like them is crucial to destigmatizing mental health within the African American community.
"I’ve seen this more times than I can probably count over the time that I’ve been working in mental health and psych. Mental illness among people of color is heavily stigmatized. And I think it would break a lot of barriers for them to be able to see a therapist and psychiatrist that looked just like them," said Powell.
So how did we get here? According to some health officials, years of educational barriers and the lack of exposure people of color receive about the mental health field have kept them away from the industry.
"Race matters, and it has affected Black folks for hundreds of years. Removing educational barriers is a major factor in terms of getting folks to the finish line," said Kilgore.
And they say the only way to start getting more people of color interested in the mental health field is through a strong recruitment and education presence within schools.
"Recruiting from different universities and colleges and encouraging those rules might be good among people of color," said Powell.
"We have to get in there and dismantle the way the system has always kind of kept Black and Brown people out," said Kilgore.
Until more people of color are in the industry, mental health officials say, unfortunately, they simply won’t be able to fulfill the needs of the community at the level that they'd like to.
For more mental health resources, see the document below: