We could not let Mental Illness Awareness Week pass by without sharing the story of Central City Concern’s Imani Center. Imani pushes back against stigma, prejudice and inequity to provide culturally responsive treatment for mental health conditions and substance use disorders to Black individuals who need it.
“The historical experience (for Black and African American people) in America – of violence, trauma, enslavement, colonization, dehumanization, oppression – it creates disparities, both in illness and treatment,” said Linda Hudson, Director of African American Services at Imani.
One barrier to effective treatment is a nationwide scarcity of Black mental health providers. “When people go to the doctor, they don’t see anyone who looks like they do. There’s a lack of trust in the medical system,” said Hudson. It's different at Imani, where Black care providers and team members can relate directly to their clients’ backgrounds and treatment is grounded in the African American experience.
“We say, ‘You come from kings and queens in Africa.’ Those are magical words. They lift people up,” Hudson said.
The tight-knit Imani team includes psychiatrists, mental health counselors, addiction counselors and peer support specialists who work together to meet each client’s needs. Through group and individual therapy, the team facilitates healing.
"In mainstream programs, our clients often don’t feel like they’re part of their treatment. They have to put a mask on and conform so they won't be labelled as noncompliant, aggressive, scary. They just try to get through it. But we have a right to be angry. It might seem pathological, but anger can just be a normal reaction to our historical experience,” said Hudson.
During group sessions, now online instead of face-to-face, the Imani team uses evidence-based practices to help people process and talk about their trauma in a safe and supportive space. “It’s loud, it’s passionate. Sometimes you’d think they’re arguing — but they’re not,” Hudson said.
Hudson remembers a client who came to Imani with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, a substance use disorder and a history of multiple arrests. He was in a desperate place. “After a year of treatment, we just didn’t see that diagnosis in him,” she said. Like many African Americans, the client had likely been misdiagnosed during a mental health crisis. Research has shown that misdiagnosis — especially of schizophrenia — occurs more often for Black people than for other ethnicities, likely due to provider bias or prejudice. An incorrect diagnosis makes it even harder for Black individuals to get the right kind of care.
But at Imani, that client accessed culturally competent support and treatment for his substance use disorder in addition to his mental illness. In group sessions, “he was around his people,” said Hudson. He could share truthfully and be open — perhaps for the first time — and he graduated from the program into a new life.
“Now he has faith in himself. He has faith in his people. He drops by the Center every year and people hang on his every word,” Hudson said.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition, know that You Are Not Alone: please seek help. To learn more about culturally competent mental health services at Central City Concern, call us at 971-361-7888 or walk in at Blackburn Center (12121 E. Burnside) or Old Town Clinic (727 W. Burnside) to get started.