Conference focusing on Black mental health set Sept. 30 at Parkland

Sep. 19—CHAMPAIGN — Donna Tanner-Harold knows many people of color have suffered from worsening mental health since the early years of the pandemic and about the many issues blocking the path to help.

She's urging the local community to get a better understanding of those issues at a free Black mental-health and wellness conference she's organizing later this month.

Open to all, it's set for Sept. 30 at Parkland College and sponsored by the Champaign County Community Coalition.

A recently retired Parkland counselor, Tanner-Harold said such factors as skepticism, mistrust, microaggressions — such as racial slurs and stereotyping — stigmas and a disproportionate impact from COVID-19 have all contributed to declining mental health among Blacks locally and across the country.

"It's a topic that needs to be explored in every community," she said.

A study released last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that not only did people of color have higher rates of COVID-19 than their White peers, but the pandemic also disproportionately affected people of color in multiple ways that have contributed to poorer mental health.

Further, the organization said people of color face greater barriers to accessing mental-health care both due to issues within and from outside the health care system, and the lack of a diverse mental-health workforce and culturally informed treatment options, coupled with stereotypes and discrimination linked to poor mental health, may also contribute to limited mental-health treatment among non-White people.

Tanner-Harold said stigmas keep many from acknowledging that they need mental-health care.

"There's something in the Black community that people work out their problems in their own families," she said.

She also said Black people are more likely to be misdiagnosed than other groups, "and a lot of times, the diagnosis is probably more severe unless there are societal and environmental factors taken into consideration."

The conference is designed for mental-health professionals, community members and those experiencing mental-health issues themselves, Tanner-Harold said.

"This is an opportunity for the community, for anybody interested in this topic, to learn more, and once they learn more, how they can be more aware and impact change," she said.

Topics will include challenges to mental-health access in the Black community, realizing and recognizing racial trauma, understanding the difference between mental health and mental illness, social skills for a healthy community, the Black church and mental health, pursuing wellness, and using school, medical and community resources.

Breakfast and lunch will be included, with parking available in Parkland's Lot B.

While the daylong conference is free, registration is required and available online at champaign