Destigmatizing mental health in minority communities


July marks Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. 

According to the CDC, more than 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. cope with a mental illness. 

There are several obstacles that prevent people of color from receiving adequate mental health services, such as insurance coverage or cultural barriers. 

In many cultures, mental health issues are mistakenly viewed as a character flaw or weakness.

Stephanie Madison, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Association of Rockland County, spoke with The Rockland County Times to share what the organization is doing to alleviate these inequities and how society can overcome these stigmas. 


“We have always been invested, as an organization, in social justice issues and being an anti-racist organization. For more than 35 years, we have had an internal group of dedicated staff members of all different levels of the organization  direct-care staff all the way up to the executives who serve on a committee that has had different iterations, but right now we refer to it as ‘D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E.’”

D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E is an acronym for diversity, inclusion, awareness and learning for ongoing unity and equity.

“That committee is devoted to looking at our service provision to making sure that we provide the highest level of care with clinical integrity that we can provide,” she said. 

The committee looks at policy, ensuring that all individuals have equal access to the services they offer. Their goal is to ensure that providers reflect those they serve and have the opportunity to improve as employers, service providers and partners in the community. 

For people of color, it may be a challenge to find a provider that reflects their racial or ethnic group. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, more than 82% of mental health counselors identified as White.

“We are not yet at a level where we are content with the diversity in our workforce. We are constantly striving to hire more people of color and also people with greater linguistic capabilities, so we have multilingual services across the board,” she said. 

MHARC tries to alleviate the lack of diversity by operating as training facility, working with volunteers and interns who are getting their degrees in the behavioral health field. 

The committee is driven by the program, “Undoing Racism,” where staff members are “trained in understanding racism and institutional racism and how people of color have been impacted.”

 Madison and her colleagues work to help patients process the trauma that comes from racial discrimination, and work with public institutions to identify and reverse ingrained racial biases. 

In neighboring Westchester County in 2012, a Black former marine and corrections officer that suffered from bipolar disorder, Kenneth Chamberlain, was killed by police in his apartment in White Plains.

“Particularly, people of color might have a negative experience or negative perception of police, and it might initially intensify their crisis,” she said. 

MHARC partners with law enforcement to overcome this obstacle by providing mental health first aid courses. 

“It helps you identify warning signs that someone may be experiencing an emotional crisis, and it gives you some tools to partner with that person to keep them safe and to connect them to professional resources,” she said. 

Clarkstown Police Department was the first Rockland County department to take part in the initiative.

Offered 3 to 4 times a year, the course reach expanded to other police departments. 

“Over the last two years we have been invited to be trainers as a part of the police academy in Rockland County,” she said. 

MHARC also likes to remind families that there are other resources such as the Behavioral Health Response Team, a mobile mental health team made of responders who may share the same lived experiences with those they are called to serve. 

Just like BHRT, MHARC is mobile. 

“90% of what we do at MHARC is mobile, so we are not asking people to come to us, we go into the community,” she said.



They invest themselves into places such as community centers, schools, churches and synagogues.

In some cultures, religion may be favored over receiving proper medical treatment. 

“We want to honor religion and spirituality as a part of a person’s journey and we want it to be a part of a person’s healing, but we don’t want it to be viewed as the only part of the solution,” she said. 

To overcome this, Madison touched on how they also partner with religious leaders.

“While many of the organizations that serve the Orthodox community exclusively serve the Orthodox community and have Orthodox staff, we have always served people in the Orthodox community as well,” she said. “We’ve built bridges there, so that we are perceived as a helpful and safe organization, and we continue to enhance our own capacity to serve people in every community, particularly by having staff that are representative of those that we serve.”

MHARC is the largest provider of behavioral health services in Rockland and has been in business for more than 70 years. 

They offer services for individuals of all ages and families, a large portion of which are free to the community.

The programs that require insurance coverage do accept Medicaid.

Those interest in learning more about their services and how to be a mental health advocate can visit their website at

You must be logged in to post a comment Login