Beyond Stigma: Issue 8’s Vision for Mental Health Equity

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

   What inspired me [to research Behavioral Health] is the[false] assumption in mainstream psychology that Black people’s depression looks the same as that of white people.
Rheeda Walker

The conversation around mental health is finally gaining the traction it deserves, and Issue 8, the proposed 10-year, 1-mil levy to enhance mental health and addiction services in Lucas County, stands as a beacon of hope, healing and progress, particularly for our African American and vulnerable populations.

In our community, the deep-rooted stigma, denial, and shame surrounding mental and emotional health issues, combined with a cultural emphasis on strength, can discourage seeking help, perpetuating the belief that there’s no problem until we interact with other systems, such as the criminal justice system.

Yet, research indicates that even when experiencing similar maladies as others, African Americans may underreport certain symptoms like suicidal thoughts, contributing to a unique behavioral health profile that healthcare providers do not recognize.

Professor, researcher and author Rheeda Walker’s work emphasizes the diversity in how depression or other disorders manifest across different racial backgrounds, challenging the mainstream psychology assumption that these symptoms are uniform across races. Walker argues that cultural, social and historical differences significantly influence the mental health experiences of African Americans, making it crucial to recognize and address these unique aspects.

Fortunately, for the past several years, the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board’s (LCMHRSB) work has focused on the distinct mental health realities faced by African Americans, initiating a more nuanced understanding of mental and emotional wellness that takes into account racial and cultural contexts.

Recognized by the State of Ohio with the Health Equity and Awareness Award, the Board has integrated Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) principles into provider agreements and implemented an Equity-in-Action Plan.

Establishing partnerships with organizations like United Pastors for Social Empowerment (UPSE), the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance (IMA) and the NAACP underscores LCMHRSB’s dedication to culturally competent care. These partnerships and efforts to educate caregivers on the unique needs of patients of color and to address historical mistrust are pivotal in creating a more inclusive and effective mental health system.

Additionally, the LCMHRSB hired a full-time DEIB Manager and required staff to undergo annual DEIB training. This dedication ensures equitable access to mental health and addiction services for all Lucas County citizens.

So, central to the argument for the levy is the disproportionate impact of mental health issues on African American communities. Issue 8 addresses these disparities head-on, with targeted initiatives to support youth, seniors and those affected by the criminal justice system.

Moreover, the levy’s focus extends beyond mere treatment. It acknowledges the deep-seated stigma surrounding mental health in African American communities. It seeks to reduce it by fostering an environment where seeking help is normalized and encouraged. The planned enhancements in youth and senior care and innovative approaches to integrating mental health support within the criminal justice system signify a holistic approach to tackling these issues.

Yet, the stark statistics—one in five adults experiencing mental illness annually and a distressing increase in suicidal ideation among our youth—underscore the levy’s importance. LCMHRSB efforts have provided treatment services to thousands (26,781 residents in FYE 2023). This growing demand for care and services highlights the critical need for the passage of Issue 8.

Therefore, the underlying issue for the levy is not the strength of our current mental health system but its capacity to meet escalating needs. These needs, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, societal pressures, and systemic inequalities, are alarming. The staggering rates of suicides among teenagers and increasing mental health issues among seniors highlight the critical need for enhanced support and resources.

In light of the alarming statistics regarding mental health issues among both the young and the elderly in our community, the levy’s passage is therefore critical for both maintaining and expanding mental health services to address these burgeoning demands.

So, this initiative is not just a call for financial support; it’s a call to action for equity and justice in mental health care and a continuing commitment to expanding services for our youth and seniors alongside innovative approaches to compassionate accountability.

As someone who has previously dedicated eight years to the Lucas County Mental Health Board, witnessed the struggles and triumphs of my own family within the system, and been honored with the inaugural Dial Award for developing a vision of Behavioral Health Equity for LCMHRSB, I’ve seen firsthand the transformative power of compassionate, culturally-informed mental health care.

My journey, from convening and leading the LCMHRSB’s initial Diversity Task Force to tackle critical issues like access to care and “cultural competence as the enforced rule and not the exception,” has shown me the urgent need for equitable mental health services.

This work is personal to me, not just as a board member but as a family member navigating these challenges alongside loved ones. This investment is not just in services but in the very fabric of our community’s health and resilience.

Let’s unite to dismantle barriers to mental health care, support our youth and seniors, and build a stronger, healthier community for all.

Vote yes on Issue 8—because everyone deserves access to the support they need to thrive. Together, we can be the architects of hope, healing, and progress in Lucas County.

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at