Behavioral health providers confront disparities and the ‘misconception of what therapy is’


“A lot of folks from various different backgrounds feel a lot of shame when it comes to seeking help, when it comes to admitting that ‘I’m struggling right now,’” said Sheldon Jacobs, a family therapist in Southern Nevada. “And I think that there are a lot of cultural norms that make it more difficult for folks to seek help,” he said.

Further building into that difficulty is the lack of representation of different cultures and people popularly portrayed as in therapy and as therapists, Jacob said.

“They see people who don’t look like them,” he said. “It creates a misconception of what therapy is and what it looks like.”

Throughout the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, communities of color disproportionately carried the brunt of virus and the years-long fallout exacerbated mental and behavioral health conditions while straining an already fragile mental health care system.

For Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) mental health needs were increasing even before the pandemic — especially for teens and young adults.

The Nevada Office of Minority Health and Equity (NOMHE) with the Division of Public and Behavioral Health and the BIPOC Counselor Collective, are joining to host a Clark County Community Connection event on Saturday at 10:00 am to draw attention to behavioral health disparities and discuss how to address them.

Jacobs, vice president of (National Alliance on Mental Illness) NAMI-Southern Nevada, is helping to launch an event to underscore the importance of providing “people of color a seat at the table within the behavioral health space.”

The Clark County Community Connection event is being hosted by the Nevada Office of Minority Health and Equity (NOMHE) with the Division of Public and Behavioral Health and the BIPOC Mental Health Collaborative.

Organizers intend to identify identify issues related to crisis and suicide prevention, as well as the means of addressing them.

According to a study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Black youth self-reported suicide attempts rose by nearly 80 percent in the US in the last two decades. Government and nonprofit research has also found major depressive episodes rising for Asian American/ Pacific Island youth, Latina youth attempting suicide at higher rates than white female, Latino and white male teens, and LGBTQ+ Native and Indigenous youth were 2.5 times more likely to report a suicide attempt than non-Native LGBTQ+ youth.

The national rollout of a comprehensive crisis behavioral healthcare system that accompanies the 988 hotline presents unique challenges in Nevada, a state that’s population is among America’s most culturally and linguistically diverse.

The purpose of 988 is meant to entertain individuals who are in crisis away from the criminal justice system and law enforcement, which have historically been the de facto providers of care and often with deadly consequences, to comprehensive behavioral health care.

People with an untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed by law officers, according to report by Treatment Advocacy Center on the role of mental illness in law enforcement encounters. Over the last five years, several wellness checks by law enforcement on Black, Asian and Latin Americans in crisis have resulted in shootings or death. One study showed that Black men in a behavioral health crisis are at a higher risk of being shot than their white peers.

Because of these legacies, mistrust of 988 and the mental health system in BIPOC communities is difficult to overcome.

Care providers must “continue these conversations with cultural humility, which is creating that safe space to be able to ask questions to understand the unique experiences of all Nevadans,” said Bianca McCall, a therapist and owner of Desert Rose Counseling Group in Las Vegas.

Other barriers to behavioral health care in the region include insurance that fails to cover mental health services, a shortage of providers, the cost of seeing someone, and transportation, Jacobs said.

Discussions between NOMHE, the Division of Public and Behavioral Health and providers started amid the global pandemic where there were growing disparities in BIPOC communities. Events like Saturday’s are designed to help behavioral health providers better identify, and hopefully overcome the barriers, McCall said.

“It’s important to highlight this as an example of collaboration,” McCall said. “It takes a collective to make any progress.”

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