Mental Health in the Black Community with Jasmine Lamitte
From a young age, you know, throughout your adult head, I think back to some of the microaggressions that I heard growing up in a predominantly white and Latinx community, and didn’t realize that that was unacceptable, right? So things about my hair.
Wow, you speak so great for a black person. Okay, hi guys. Welcome back to another Mindful Space episode, special edition here from Los Angeles, California. Today we have Jasmine Lemite, and we are going to discuss black mental health and black mental health in the school community. How are you today? I’m great, and welcome to Los Angeles.
Right? I’m usually the one that says welcome to Florida. Today people get to welcome me. I feel so special. Happy to have you. Thank you.
Same. Let’s start with an introduction so our audience can get to know you. What do you do professionally? Yeah, so I am a licensed clinical social worker. I’ve been a social worker for about 15 years. I’ve primarily worked in school settings in both Chicago and Los Angeles. I recently resigned from a position as the director of mental health for 24 schools. It was a lot.
I was going to say, I’m like, that is a lot. Yeah, so I needed to take a step back. I’m a mom of almost three year old and needed to have a little bit more balance. So I started about a month ago a new position as the director of mental health for a nonprofit that works with youth and foster care, like building up their mental health department that they don’t have yet.
That’s awesome though. You get to start something from the ground up, you know? Yes, actually. I’d really like to do that. Yes, my way. Yes, your way. I’m sorry, the way that’s best for the organization. Of course.
Of course. So today we’re going to discuss Black mental health or the mental health in the Black community. We have your wonderful book which we’ll get to it eventually. But I want to start with just opening the conversation, you know?
How… Well, let’s start with a basic question. What ethnicity is the most affected with mental health, at least here in LA? That’s an interesting question. So I think, you know, people that are more in the know might think that it’s the Black community or the Latino, Latinx community. But a recent study came out, I believe it was through NAMI, and determined that actually people that identify as two or more races have the most significant mental health challenges. So that was interesting because I’m biracial and I was like, huh, that makes a lot of sense to me. And then right after that would be white folks and then Black folks and then Latinx and then kind of goes down the line with Asians being the least.
But this is folks that have identified mental illness and, you know, there’s a lot of reasons why that might be not an accurate number, especially for our communities. Exactly. Which one would you say… Okay, so the one with the most mental health issues is the mixed community, which I’m sure here in LA there’s a lot. Same as Florida. Yes. Yes. For the purpose of today’s discussion, we’re going to focus on the Black mental health community, right? What are the top mental health issues within the Black community in regards to mental health? Yeah, so definitely depression is the top. Kind of really evenly split with anxiety. There is a lot of also PTSD, you know, race-based trauma is definitely there. But I would say the majority of students that I see or even like their families are really highly impacted by depression and anxiety. Something else that’s interesting to note is there’s a significant overrepresentation of the diagnosis of schizophrenia within the Black community.
Oh, okay. And there’s a lot of historical reasons why that is the case. You know, it could be the clinician doesn’t have a really good understanding of culture. They might view one, you know, let’s say a white client’s behavior differently than a Black client. So, you know, they’re over-diagnosing and assigning Black folks with like psychotic disorders and things like that. And I think part of that has to do with, you know, definitely like limiting and it’s a very oppressive diagnosis. But I’m even seeing that with younger students and schizophrenia. It’s very rare to be diagnosed before the age of 18.
And yet I’m seeing this year alone a lot of kids coming into schools in high school with that diagnosis. And it’s like, hmm, is that really, is it really that? Is it a mood disorder? Maybe with psychotic features?
Is it really schizophrenia? So, when you have one of these students, how do you address that? Or what is your job? What is your job in the mental health community for those students that come with you with those kind of disorders?
Yeah. So, you know, when it’s more of like a severe mental illness like polar or schizophrenia, even like OCD, I would say, we have to do multi-level supports, right? So, of course, we’d want to have, you know, school-based counseling. But we have to partner with that child’s, you know, external team. I would hope that if they have that diagnosis, they have a team of, you know, a psychiatrist.
Maybe they’re in wraparound program. And so we’re really looking holistically at the child to see, you know, what kind of accommodations we need to make in school, what kind of, you know, maybe lessened workload or extensions on assignments they maybe need. And really thinking about it in terms of, you know, like a tiered approach, right? So the intensive, more individual care that they might need, but then also, you know, what are the supports with beyond just that one-on-one care that they might need?
Exactly. What would you say, or why would you say that mental health is important for the black community? Yeah, so there’s a long history of stigma about mental health. I would say just in general, it’s definitely within the last couple of years, probably because of the pandemic, you see there’s a lot more buzzwords when it comes to mental health. But historically, our community does not have a lot of trust with the medical profession and the psychology, psychiatry profession with good reason. It was definitely when, you know, mental health was in its early stages, you know, they definitely were using it as another tool of oppression, even going as far back as slavery.
So one example that really sticks with me from undergrad is this idea of at first, like, black people could not have a mental illness because the only people that could have a mental illness were people that owned property and had like decision-making rights. That makes no sense. It makes no sense, right? But that, again, was to justify slavery. They’re like, no, they’re fine.
Like, they can’t even have a mental illness. Then it shifted, and so, you know, you had folks, enslaved folks running away or escaping, trying to escape slavery. And so in order to kind of, you know, kind of go against the abolitionists, it’s like, no, there’s nothing wrong with slavery. These people that are trying to escape, they have a mental illness called drapetomania, which is just the, any enslaved person that was running away was called drapetomania. So it’s like, and now they have a mental illness. So that was kind of like the beginnings of just kind of flip-flopping based to, you know, use mental health really to further their causes. And even, you know, going through to like the civil rights, Jim Crow era, even, you know, coming up with diagnoses for folks that were fighting for their rights, like, okay, well, if they’re having these issues, there must be something wrong with them. There’s some kind of aggression or some kind of something, you know, going on. Yeah, exactly. So it’s not surprising.
There was definitely a lot of, you know, studies that were being done that were not, you know, not the best for black folks. Not approved. Not approved. Very harmful. And so, you know, there’s just definitely a lot of mistrust. And then there aren’t a lot of black clinicians, you know, there’s a lot of gatekeeping, even, you know, I’m a social worker within the social work profession, within psychology, all of the mental health profession. So to be licensed, you have to go through all of these different hoops, and there’s money, and there’s all these things, right? So the pool gets smaller and smaller, the more and more educated, the more experienced that somebody has. And so then when somebody, even like me, is looking for a therapist that looks like myself, it could be really, really challenging, especially depending on what part of the country you’re in. Exactly. Do you, is that why you choose this specialty?
I don’t know if I want to call it specialty, but that niche, like, you know, if you want to treat the black community, and is that why you have your book? Yeah, it’s definitely one of the reasons, I think. You know, I grew up in a household that definitely needed a lot of mental health intervention, but that was not something that, you know, my mom, I was raised by a single mom, was aware of, you know, and I didn’t really learn about, like, mental health or what that was until I went to college. And then, you know, when I decided to become a social worker and working in schools, I just saw so much resistance with, you know, my kid’s not crazy, or, you know, just very, the idea of seeking any kind of help for mental health is just so stigmatized. So I think, you know, just me holding that position of being the director for that many schools, my schools are predominantly Latinx and black. So over the 10 years that I was there, I was able to really help shift that narrative and, you know, have kids actually wanting to seek those services, have families actually feel like, okay, she gets that I can trust her, like, maybe I do need, you know, additional support or additional help.
But yeah, I always wanted to fight for the underdog, and I feel like this community is, you know, one that needs, you know, representation. Yes. Going back to what you said with the stigma, I think that’s very important and very true because, and it’s general, a lot of people, you still tell them you should go to therapy and it’s like, I’m not crazy.
Right. You don’t have to be crazy to go to therapy. But specifically for the black community, how does stigma affect the outcomes for each and one of them? Yeah, so, you know, I think the stigma can be related to just one seeking help, like you mentioned.
You know, I think it also can, it definitely impacts the treatment that might be provided. So even if you think about the proportion of our community that’s in prison, right, we are not the highest population, or the most population in this country. But we are the most that are in prison. And it’s like how many of those folks actually had a mental illness, or there was a reason, you know, they committed whatever the crime was. And, you know, if you go into the judicial system, and you have two individuals that commit the same crime, one is white and one is black, the white person is more likely to get some support. Well, maybe they need some treatment.
Maybe they need a different route versus like the black person that is like, you did something wrong. Yeah, the absolute truth. Like there’s something wrong. Yeah, you did something wrong. That’s it. Yeah, exactly. So, you know, I think it definitely impacts our ability to move forward and to, you know, gain, you know, additional footing within this country.
And, yeah. I know another big factor for a lot of people, but for the black community, is the insurance access, right, in order to receive that help that they need. What do you see in your job, in your schools?
Yeah. There’s definitely a lot of barriers to access insurance, you know, being one of them, you know, depending on if you, one of the things that I would do with my role is helping families sign up for Medi-Cal, right, so that they can, you know, especially their children, if you don’t have private insurance, like you’re under a certain, you know, annual income, your child can still get these supports, right. And so even just like removing that barrier of like, hey, here’s a computer, let’s sit down, like bring the documents.
That can be helpful to navigating systems, right. Yeah, insurance is definitely a piece of it. I think transportation, depending on the part of the country that you’re in, and even in Los Angeles, we were talking earlier, like, you know, depending on where you are four miles can take an hour to get to.
That’s so true. We do not have great public transportation here. It’s really very inaccessible to get to certain places. So, you know, it’s really in the areas that where the families live and where I work in South LA and in East LA, but especially South LA where the majority of our black community lives.
There aren’t a lot of agencies and a lot of, you know, available clinicians in those areas who would have to drive to West LA or to, you know, North LA, and that’s not feasible for a lot of people. That could be like an hour. Exactly. Who has time, and if you’re, you know, working multiple jobs and you have other kids and it’s just. An hour and hour driving.
If you do the bus or public transportation in general. Oh, yeah. They have you going all around.
Yeah. It’s not convenient at all. Also, if they don’t have insurance, then private practice is not an option.
Well, it is depending on your income. Right. But obviously.
Yeah. And a lot of, you know, colleagues, friends of mine choose not to do work, go through insurance because of all of the red tape and, you know, the getting out of the way. Getting their funds, right? They need to live.
They need to eat. And so these sessions, if it’s going private, can be, you know, $150 to $300 an hour, you know, which is not, I mean, I can’t even go for that. It’s unrealistic.
I wouldn’t even pay myself that. Right. Maybe I went into the wrong field. Right?
Charging that much, you know. What, when we talk about racial discrimination, and we touched a little bit upon that, how does racial discrimination affect the overall mental health within the black community? Well, there’s, you know, different levels of racial discrimination. You know, you have, like, the microaggressions, which I hate that that’s what it’s called. I’m like, it’s not micro, you know. If you think about water, or like a drop of water hitting the same spot over and over and over again, water can be a very powerful force, even when it’s just trickling in that way. I think of microaggressions in that same way. You don’t even realize that these dings are hitting your, you know, personal self-worth, hitting your self-esteem. From a young age, you know, throughout your adulthood, I think back to some of the microaggressions that I heard growing up in a predominantly white and Latinx community, and didn’t realize that that was unacceptable.
Right? So things about my hair, or things about, wow, you speak so great for a black person. I’m like, they say that to me, even. It’s like, oh, wait, you’re Hispanic? I’m like, yes.
Oh, because of your English. Yeah. Right. You’re like so weird. So weird compliment, you know?
To girl, I guess, I’ll take it. Exactly, yeah. And so even things like that, over time, you start believing those messages that you’re hearing. You know, so those are like on the low end, and you see that represented in. TV and movies, these messages of what your community is supposed to represent. And then of course you have the more extreme versions, the flat out, like I’m calling you a particular name or I’m actively doing something overtly racist, which is very clear and can obviously be very harmful and hurtful. And then we have systemic racism as well. So those things where you may not recognize how these systems are interacting to limit your opportunities or to limit your ability to move forward or move up in this country. And all of those can definitely lead to depression.
There is that like I mentioned race-based trauma where the idea of going into a space that doesn’t look like you can cause a lot of anxiety can really make you question who you are as a person. So yeah, it’s like multi-tiered, you might be getting it all at once. Sitting can be a lot. Could do another three interviews and go into each one specifically.
When it comes to school-based and your students, how does this impact them within the school system? Yeah, so I’ve worked in two major cities in my career. The beginning of my career was in Chicago. I got my master’s at the University of Chicago. And being from Southern California, it was nice to move out and do something different. But then I retired from winter.
I was like, huh, not doing that. But my schools that I was working in on the South side were like 99.9 percent black. Like very little racial integration, very segregated. So definitely the needs that I saw there were different than what I see in Los Angeles, which have more diverse needs.
For one, there were a lot more teachers and staff that looked like the community that they were serving. In Los Angeles, that isn’t always the case. Because of the housing crisis in Los Angeles, a lot of black families have decided to move inland or to move to Nevada or other places that are a little bit more affordable. So we’ve definitely seen a decrease in black families even in Los Angeles.
But there is a lot of tension in South LA and East LA a little bit because of the influx of more Latinx families. And of course, it’s like, we should be working together. We have the same issues, but it’s by design that we’re pitted against each other. And so there’s that feeling of not belonging or really trying to determine where you fit in. So I’m seeing a lot of our students just not feeling seen, not seeing their cultures represented, not seeing adults in the building that look like them. You know, definitely even our curriculum, you know, really having to fight to make sure that we’re integrating like black history into that.
You know, we do a lot of Latinx history, obviously here in Los Angeles, there’s a big community. But it’s like, even if there aren’t students that look like this, we should still be talking about these topics. So yeah, definitely, you know, I think in the schools where I’ve been working for the last 10 years, we really focused in on identity development and whatever that meant for them because there’s such a strong connection between identity and like again, that feeling of belonging and health and positive mental health, right?
So being able to feel confident in who you are. And we were talking about this earlier, how if you have multi, if you’re multirational, then you might not belong to either or. Right.
You know, you might feel like you don’t, you can’t match with any of them. So that might lead your identity a little confused. Yeah, which, you know, it makes sense to me at first. I was like, really, like two or more races is the most, you know, significant need.
But it makes sense. Yeah, if you are, I’m biracial and I’ve definitely felt like that at different points in my life. Like, I, you know, don’t fit in enough with the black folks, but certainly don’t fit in with the white folks.
Look at me and they’re like, nah, you ate one of us. So, you know, that feeling throughout your lifetime of not really knowing where you fit in, again, can really chip away at your, at your health, for sure. What are some school based mental health treatments or interventions that you provide or that schools provide? Yeah. So, you know, in schools, we, and I know you know this, but we really look at things that like in a tiered model. So in my former role as director of mental health for the schools, I worked and designed a trauma informed schools initiative called HEART. I love acronyms. So it was healing environments and responses to trauma.
Okay. And so within that, I, you know, had six different components that all schools were working towards, which included, you know, making sure that everybody understood what trauma was and how it can manifest in the classroom, like the fight or flight response, really understanding, you know, being curious about behaviors, not, oh my gosh, this kid is blowing up, like, what’s the consequence, but like, what’s going on with you being curious about that positive and strong adult relationships, social emotional learning. So, you know, teaching kids, you know, about self awareness, social social awareness, responsible decision making, and many other things. There’s a component of, you know, obviously the community collaboration, the family collaboration. And then I had a component of like self care for the adults, because oftentimes we’re really focused on like the kids, the kids, but it’s like, hey, if our adults aren’t filling their cup, can they support our kids in the school?
And so that’s where we’re really focused on, you know, the kids’ work. So that’s kind of like the, you know, first tier of like everybody’s going to get these things. And then our second tier would be our kids that maybe need a little bit more. So, you know, they might need some group interventions that our school social workers lead on topics of, you know, managing their emotions or self esteem or grief and loss. And then after that we have our tier three, which is our kids that need the most intensive services and they might be getting one on one counseling with the social worker.
We might be doing external referrals, depending on other things that might be happening outside of the school. I also introduced a mindfulness curriculum for all of our schools and the kids had to, not had to, they got to. They got to do mindfulness one to two times a day that was led by the teachers or for like our middle schoolers. They got to like be calm classroom is what it was called as the curriculum ambassadors.
So they would read it, you know, in front of their class. And so that was really, it was not well received at first. I had a lot of like, is this religious, you know, it’s spiritual? I’m like, no, no, it’s not. This is very white.
Like actually mindfulness started with brown people. So we own this. But over time, it was like five years ago that I started it. Like people really loved it. Parents, we, our teachers really enjoyed it as well. So you had a good return on the whole project. Yeah, we did some interviews with kids just to say, you know, how do you use mindfulness, you know, in your day to day life and thought most of them would be talking about school.
But a lot of the kids are like, you know, when, when I’m really frustrated in my video game, I like use this mindfulness or like when my parents are arguing, I use mindfulness. And I was like, thank you. That’s what I wanted to hear. It did something right. Yeah. Can schools do more?
What can schools do to help the, the black community, the black students that they have? Yes. They definitely pass.
Yes. Always, we can always do more. You know, I think I’m so many times, I’m just so grateful that I live in Los Angeles when I think about, you know, these conversations about, you know, not having race, race talked about in schools. Like I can’t even imagine Los Angeles doing that.
So luckily I don’t have to deal with that. But, you know, that in and of itself, being making sure that our kids are seeing accurate history and are learning about things, you know, positive things that the community, their community has done is so important. And I remember, you know, 90s growing up in the public education here, the only things I ever really learned about our community was about slavery.
And then like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. That’s all I learned about, you know, and it’s like, there’s so much more that we, we have done. And that we should be proud of in this, in our, and we want to make sure that, you know, and it’s not just black community, but like all of our, you know, rich history, all the different cultures. Yes, of course. We all work together to create what we have today.
And so erasing history by not acknowledging those things, I think it’s a big deal. You know, I think making sure another thing, I feel lucky to live in California is the most of our schools have at least like a school counselor. Yeah. You know, we definitely are. At least one.
At least one, you know, I definitely need more. But we’re also in Los Angeles really adding a lot of social workers to our, and psychologists. So having a full team on campus makes such a difference, right?
It does. Because we see the kids every day, like what an opportunity to really like get to know them and, you know, really design interventions and connect them to resources that are, that are what they really need. Yeah. And it takes away all the possible blocks, like your parent can’t take it to therapy or the insurance. Exactly. It’s like, we got you right here. Yeah. And then they find out you’re there and then they won’t stop coming off.
Oh my gosh. Yes, those phone calls that are supposed to be five minutes. I think you have your regular hours. Yes, yeah. Well, I wanted to talk about resources. So that leads me to your book. Yeah. I love the concept behind it, the idea, but I’m going to allow you to explain what it really is.
Yes. So I never thought I would write a book. It was not like my dream, but I had a publishing company reach out and they were searching for an author to write a book on this topic.
So they were doing interviews and such. And I was like, hmm, I guess I, yeah, why don’t I try? So to submit, you know, a writing sample. And it was something that I definitely do in my work, but it’s usually in like one-on-one conversations or, you know, parent or caregiver presentations. You know, I was thinking about, and even as a manager managing school social workers that are black, I had a diverse team, but definitely seeing a lot of the needs, especially for our community.
And so, and the resistance, like even school social workers who were licensed or we are in the misaligned field, not seeking services for themselves, right? So my goal with the book is for, you know, anybody that’s like, I don’t really know if this is for me. It’s really allows you to explore a lot about your identity. There’s screeners in there for, you know, anxiety, depression, PTSD, so that they can really, you know, go through this book and decide, hey, maybe I do need to write a book. I need to get some help and hopefully through reading it, we’ll feel like this, you know, this is something that everybody has. The goal is for us to have mental health. We’re trying to avoid mental illness. So, you know, everybody has mental health and sometimes depending on our lives or depending on, you know, the, you know, the experiences that we’ve had, some people need a little bit more support.
Exactly. And I always, like the way that I would get parents and caregivers into it, I’m like, do you think white folks are not trying to access, like not use every single resource in their arsenal to like continue to move forward? They are signing up for therapy and all of these things, right? So like we should be having access to the same resources that they do in order for us to feel healthy and able to accomplish the goals that we want.
I also, you know, I didn’t think about this when I was writing it, but I’ve had other clinicians who are not black who have purchased the book and said this is actually really helpful for me because I have black clients and I wanted to really get an understanding of more of the history and the cultural applications. And I was like, oh yes, that was by design. That was my idea. Of course, yeah.
So that, I mean, that makes me feel good too. It is because, I mean, I’m from the Latins community and even though we want to say, oh, we understand, we can understand, like we really can’t. We didn’t go through it.
We were not raised in that community. So having a book to help you kind of understand better or guide you when you’re doing your own therapeutic job. Yeah.
I mean, I could see it as a great tool for any therapist, person, parent, anybody. Yeah. Yeah.
Exactly. You know, I am biracial. My mom is white and she raised me and I obviously had her read the book and she, I always, anytime I meet like biracial parents, I have to highlight my mom because I’m like, my mom did everything that she could to make sure I had access to black people that had access to black curriculum.
She fought. I remember when I was in high school for me to be able to read the autobiography of Malcolm X, you know, in high school because all of the books we were reading in AP English were all like white authors. And she was like, these are the ones I want my daughter to read, you know.
Oh, wow. So she was like doing those things before school, you know, but she read the book and there were things in there she didn’t know. And she was like, so thankful, you know, I’m like, I’m like, I’m proud. I’m proud, mom.
No, I think it’s amazing. And I congratulate you and applaud you for bringing any type of resource and content out there that, you know, speaks for a whole community, right? The more the merrier. I agree.
Is there a last message you would like to tell our audience, maybe a, whether it’s a student listening, a parent or another practitioner? Yeah. Well, it is, we’re, you know, filming this in March. It is Social Work Awareness Month or Social Work Hype Up Month, whatever you want to call it. So definitely want to let all the social workers out there know that I see you and I appreciate all the work that you’re doing. And especially the school social workers, you know, like you can feel really isolating, you know, being the only one on your campus or not really knowing where to get supports or resources. I have an Instagram account that I started during the pandemic, like at the height of it, because we were shut down for a whole year and a half of that shutdown. We had our schools online. And a lot more time. And it’s Social Work Sage and it’s really for any school based mental health professional.
Psychs included counselors, but just a space for resources, tips, humor, you know, space for to connect with other folks across the country really. Great. I loved it. Everybody go follow her. Yes, follow me. Well, I want to thank you again for coming. It was a lovely conversation. I will get to do the workbook.
I got one as a gift. Score. But, um, yeah, no, thank you for everything you do.
Thank you for coming and having this important conversation. And also a month where we’re celebrating women’s black history month. Yes. So it’s like perfect.
I think about like right the week, the first week of March is like the happy in between for like women’s history and Social Work history month and then black history. So like it’s all like everything. So it worked out. We’ve got a girl. Thank you. Thank you guys for listening.
Don’t forget to come back. We post a new episode every week. Please subscribe. Leave us a comment. Let us know your thoughts and we will. Hey, back camera. Bye.