Mental Health in the Black Community with Jasmine Lamitte
From a young age 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. 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 Lemin 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. Was a lot. I was going to say I’m like that is a lot. Yes. So I needed to take a step back. I’m a mom of an 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 in 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. Actually doing that. Yes. My way. Your way. I’m sorry. The way that’s best for the organization. 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. 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 know. Well, people that are more in the know might think that know 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 huh, it 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 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 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, race based trauma is definitely there. But I would say the majority of students that I see or even 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. Okay. And there’s a lot of historical reasons why that is the case. It could be the clinician doesn’t have a really good understanding of culture. They might view one, let’s say a white client’s behavior differently than a black client’s. So they’re over diagnosing and assigning black folks with psychotic disorders and things like that. And I think part of that has to do with definitely limiting and it’s a very oppressive diagnosis. But I am 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 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 in the mental health community for those students that come with you with those kind of disorders? Yeah, so when it’s more of like a severe mental illness like bipolar or schizophrenia even like OCD, I would say we have to do multilevel supports. Right. So of course we’d want to have school based counseling, but we have to partner with that child’s external team. I would hope they have that diagnosis. They have a team of a psychiatrist, maybe they’re in wraparound program. And so we’re really looking holistically at the child to see what kind of accommodations we need to make in school, what kind of maybe lesson workload or extensions on assignments they maybe need, and really thinking about it in terms of a tiered approach. Right, so the intensive more individual care that they might need, but then also what are the supports with beyond just that one on one care that they might need? Exactly. Why would you say that mental health is important for the black community? Yeah, so there is 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. 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 mental health was in its early stages, 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, 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 decision making rights. It makes no sense, right, but that, again, was to justify slavery. They’re like, no, they’re fine. They can’t even have a mental illness. Then it shifted, and so you had folks, enslaved folks, running away or escaping, trying to escape slavery. And so in order to 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 trapetamania, which is just any enslaved person that was running away was called trapetamania. 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 use mental health, really, to further their causes, and even going through to the civil rights Jim Crow era, even 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 something going on, something yeah, exactly. So it’s not surprising. There was definitely a lot of studies that were being done that were not the best for black folks, not approved, very harmful. And so there’s just definitely a lot of mistrust, and then there aren’t a lot of black clinicians. There’s a lot of gatekeeping, even. 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 experience that somebody has. And so then when somebody even like me is looking for a therapist that looks like myself, it can be really challenging, especially depending on what part of the country you’re in. Exactly. Is that why you choose this specialty? I don’t know if I want to call it specialty, but that niche, like, 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 I grew up in a household that definitely needed a lot of mental health intervention, but that was not something that my mom I was raised by a single mom was aware of, and I didn’t really learn about mental health or what that was until I went to college. And then when I decided to become a social worker and working in schools, I just saw so much resistance with my kid’s. Not crazy or just very the idea of seeking any kind of help for mental health is just so stigmatized. So I think just me holding that position of being the director for that many schools. My schools are predominantly Latinx and black. So over the ten years that I was there, I was able to really help shift that narrative and have kids actually wanting to seek those services, have families, actually feel like, okay, she gets it. I can trust her. Maybe I do need additional support or additional help. But yeah, I always wanted to fight for the underdog, and I feel like, don’t we all? Community is one that needs 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 I think the stigma can be related to just one seeking help, like you mentioned. I think it definitely impacts the treatments 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 imprisoned. And it’s like, how many of those folks actually had a mental illness? So there was a reason they committed whatever the crime was. And 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 the black person that is like, you did the absolute truth. There’s something wrong. You did something wrong. That’s it. Yeah, exactly. So I think it definitely impacts our ability to move forward and to gain additional footing within this country. 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 school? Yeah, there’s definitely a lot of barriers to access insurance being one of them, depending on one of the things that I would do in my role is helping families sign up for Medi Cal so that they know, especially their children, if you don’t have private insurance, you’re under a certain 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. Just 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. Depending on where you are, 4 miles can take an hour to get. We do not have great public transportation here. It’s really very inaccessible to get to certain places. So it’s really in the areas 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 available clinicians in those areas who would have to drive to West La or to 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 working multiple jobs and you have other kids, an hour driving if you do the bus or public transportation in general oh, yeah, they have you going all around. 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 even colleagues, friends of mine choose not to do work, go through insurance because of all of the red tape and getting their funds. Right. They need to live, they need to eat. And so these sessions, if it’s going private, can be one hundred and fifty dollars to three hundred dollars an hour, which is not I mean, I can’t even afford that. It’s unrealistic. I wouldn’t even pay myself that maybe I went into the wrong field charging that much. When we talk about racial discrimination, and we touch a little bit upon that, what how does racial discrimination affect the overall mental health within the black community? Yeah, well, there’s different levels of racial discrimination. You have the microaggressions, which I hate that that’s what it’s called. It’s not micro. 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 things are hitting your personal self worth, hitting your self esteem from a young age 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, because of your English. And I’m like, right, you’re like, so what’s? Your weird compliment, 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. 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 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 and it 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? You know, 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, I’m not doing that. But my schools that I was working in on the South Side were like 99.9% 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, I guess, influx of more Latinx families and of like, we should be working together. We have the same issues, but it’s like 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. Definitely even our curriculum really having to fight to make sure that we’re integrating black history into 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. I think in the schools where I’ve been working for the last ten years, we really focused in on identity development and whatever that meant for them because there’s such a strong connection between identity and 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’re multirational, then you might not belong to either or right. You might feel like you can’t match with any of them. So that might leave your identity a little. Yeah, which it makes sense to me. At first, I was like, really? Two or more races is the most 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 don’t fit in enough with the black folks, but certainly don’t fit in with the white folks. They look at me and they’re like, nah, you hate one of us. So that feeling throughout your lifetime of not really knowing where you fit in again can really chip away at your health. For sure. What are some school based mental health treatments or interventions that you provide or that schools provide? Yeah, in schools, and I know you know this, but we really look at things 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 had six different components that all schools were working towards, which included making sure that everybody understood what trauma was and how it can manifest in the classroom, like the fight or flight response, really understanding being curious about behaviors, not, oh my gosh, this kid is blowing up. What’s the consequence? But what’s going on with you being curious about that? Positive and strong adult relationships, social emotional learning, so teaching kids about self awareness, social awareness, responsible decision making, and many other things. There’s a component of obviously, the community collaboration, the family collaboration. And then I had a component of self care for the adults because oftentimes we’re really focused on the kids, but it’s like, hey, if our adults aren’t filling their cup, can they support our kids in this work? So that’s kind of like the 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 they might need some group interventions that our school social workers lead on topics of 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 our middle schoolers. They got to be calm. Classroom is what it was called as the curriculum ambassadors. So they would read it in front of their class. And so that was really not well received at first. I had a lot of, like, is this religious? It’s spiritual. I’m like, no, it’s not. Holistic very white. I’m like, actually Mindfulness started with brown people, so we own this. But over time, it was like five years ago that I started it. People really loved it. Parents, our teachers, really enjoyed it as well. So you had a good return on projects? Yeah, we did some interviews with kids just to say, how do you use mindfulness in your day to day life? And thought most of them would be talking about school, but a lot of the kids are like, when I’m really frustrated in my video game, I 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. Right. Can schools do more? What can schools do to help the black community, the black students that they have? Yes, they definitely can. We can always do think so many times. I’m just so grateful that I live in Los Angeles. When I think about these conversations about not having race talked about in schools, I can’t even imagine Los Angeles doing that. So luckily I don’t have to deal with that. But that in and of itself, making sure that our kids are seeing accurate history and are learning about things, positive things, that their community has done, is so important. I remember in the 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. And it’s like there’s so much more that we have done and that we should be proud of, and we want to make sure know. And it’s not just black community, but all of know rich history, all the different cultures. We’ve all worked together to create what we have today. And so erasing history by not acknowledging those things, I think is a big know. I think making sure. Another thing that I feel lucky to live in California is that most of our schools have at least like a school. Definitely at least one, at least know it’s, definitely more. But we’re also in Los Angeles really adding a lot of social workers to our psychologists. So having a full team on campus makes such a difference. Right, because we see the kids every day. What an opportunity to really get to know them and really design interventions and connect them to resources that are what they really need. Yeah, and it takes away all the possible blocks. Like a parent can’t take you to therapy or the insurance. Exactly. We got you right here. Yeah. And then they find out you’re there and then they won’t stop coming. Oh my gosh. Those phone calls that are supposed to be then you have your regular. Yes. 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. So I never thought I would write a book. It’s not like my dream, but I had a publishing company reach out. They were searching for an author to write a book on this topic. So they were doing interviews and such and I was like, yeah, why don’t I try? So I had to submit a writing sample and it was something that I definitely do in my work, but it’s usually in one on one conversations or parent or caregiver presentations I was thinking about. And even as a manager managing school social workers that are black, I have diverse team, but definitely seeing a lot of the needs, especially for our community and the resistance. Like even school social workers who were licensed or we are in the mental health field, not seeking services for themselves. Right. So my goal with the book is for anybody that’s like, I don’t really know if this is for me. It really allows you to explore a lot about your identity. There are screeners in there for anxiety, depression, PTSD, so that they can really go through this book and decide, hey, maybe I do need to get some help. And hopefully through reading, it will feel like this is something that everybody has. The goal is for us to have mental health. We’re trying to avoid mental illness, so everybody has mental health. And sometimes, depending on our lives or depending on the experiences that we’ve had, some people need a little bit more support. Exactly. And the way that I would get parents and caregivers into it, I’m like, do you think white folks are not trying to access, not use every single resource in their arsenal to continue to move forward? They are signing up for therapy and all of these things. Right. So 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 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, it is. Because I’m from the Latin community and even though we want to say, oh, we understand. We can’t understand. 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, I could see it as a great tool for any therapist, person, parent, anybody. Yeah, exactly. I am Biracial. My mom is white, and she raised me, and I obviously had her read the book. And anytime I meet 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. I 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 in high school because all of the books we were reading in AP English were all white authors, and she was like, these are the ones I want my daughter to read. So she was doing those things before. It was cool, but she read the book, and there were things in there she didn’t know, and she was so thankful. I’m like, welcome, proud mom. No. Well, I think it’s amazing, and I congratulate you and applaud you for bringing any type of resource and content out there that 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 whether it’s a student listening, a parent, or another practitioner? Yeah. Well, we’re 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. It can feel really isolating 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 not shut down. We had our schools online for a lot more time. Yeah. And it’s social work stage, and it’s really for any school based mental health professional, sykes included counselors, but just a space for resources, tips, humor, space to connect with other folks across the country. Really great. I loved it. Everybody go follow her. Well, I want to thank you again for coming. It was a lovely conversation. I will get to do the workbook. I got one of the gifts. Score. But 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, right. The first week of March is, like, the happy in between for Women’s History. And Social Work History Month and then Black History. But you have everything. Yes. So it worked out. Get a girl. Thank you. All right. 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 get back to you. Backhammer. Bye, Jam.