With its high numbers of unemployment, imprisonment, broken families and violence, the Black community has a lot of distress. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness website, inmates, along with children who are exposed to violence, who live in foster care and who are in the child welfare system, all have a higher risk for developing a mental illness. And what’s worse is that instead of seeking treatment, most members of the Black community would rather ignore it “until it goes away” or just not talk about it at all.
“Mental illness is frequently stigmatized and misunderstood in the African-American community,” reports the NAMI. “African-Americans are much more likely to seek help through their primary care doctors opposed to accessing specialty care.”
Through its team and their passion to deliver culturally relevant behavioral health services that are clinically sound and client centered, Adaptive Behavioral Services Inc., located on Broad Street, in East Liberty, is working to treat those affected by the everyday struggles within the Black community, all while trying to eliminate the stigma that comes along with seeking treatment for mental illness.
“Our community is stressed out. There’s a lot of trauma and we don’t even know it. We’ve actually normalized it,” said Kevin Jordan, general manager and chief administrative officer of ABS. “At any given point and time, anyone can be a situation away from going into distress.
There’s a lot of parents distressed over their children, grandparents distressed because they’re raising their grandchildren and a lot of people are distressed because they are taking care of their parents and working.”
“While we do not avoid providing services to other ethnicities, our primary focus was to bring help to the Black community,” said Janice Gladden, the community relations consultant of ABS. “Knowing that the violence, poverty, the inadequate education and health issues that plague our communities, in many instances, have some root in how we feel emotionally and how we adapt to the majority culture.
“ABS recognizes that there is a special dynamic that needs to occur for Black people to feel comfortable with opening up.”
Adaptive Behavioral Services is a Black owned, operated and certified outpatient mental health and psychiatric clinic that began serving the community in 2012 after Dr. Omar Reid, who had been operating several clinics in the Boston metro area, read a report that said African-Americans in Allegheny County had a higher rate of mental illness than the national average, contacted Jordan about an interest in opening up a clinic primarily targeting African-Americans. Since then, it has already reached approximately 475 clients and has received the Gold Seal of Approval for Behavioral Health Care from The Joint Commission of Accreditation of Hospital Organizations.
According to Jordan, ABS was recently approved by the state of Pennsylvania for a drug and alcohol license. He said whereas other facilities focus on either mental and behavioral health, or drug and alcohol treatments, ABS will be the only Black owned dual diagnosis clinic in Pennsylvania.
“We treat both. A lot of times people have both. If they have a drug or alcohol substance abuse issue, then there’s probably an underlying mental health issue there as well,” said Jordan.
Along with its drug and alcohol treatment programs, ABS also offers a number of individual, family and group programs to serve the community. Programs such as offender counseling; re-entry counseling to help individuals transition from prison to society; tele-therapy, which allows a psychiatrist to connect with individuals using a secure video connection; juvenile court and reintegration support; and a number of psychiatric services. They also hold a number of JAMZ Sessions, which are interactive group therapy sessions that are based on a specific diagnosis, lifestyle or need, such as grief, trauma, etc.
“These sessions are a way to start getting people to that place where they can operate at their ultimate productivity, and live a free life and not be bogged down with the weight of all the stress and trauma,” said Jordan. “It’s also an opportunity for community organizations to help the population they’re serving, by bringing in our clinicians. We’re not counselors, this is therapy. There’s a difference.”
Norman Grayson, a client of ABS for almost a year, said ABS has helped him tremendously. “When I first got into the program they helped me with medication and seeing a doctor. And when I ran into a problem with housing, they helped me with that too. It (ABS) is really giving me a form of direction.”
Grayson, who sees a counselor for depression and drug and alcohol counseling, transferred to ABS after having problems at Mercy Behavioral Health Systems. He said he feels more comfortable at ABS because he is getting help from people who look like him, understand him and can relate to him. He said his goals now are to stay on his medication, find employment and continue his counseling.
“These places can’t understand the issues we have in our community like we can,” Jordan said.
“We seek to have individuals providing services who understand the issues of our community, that bring their own personal experiences to the treatment and services they provide, and therefore are able to provide a more relevant level of care,” Gladden said.
Along with programs for adults, they also offer services for children ages 6 and up. Jordan said they have been receiving calls to work with local schools and have moved to start addressing the issue of autism in Black children.
“African-Americans are diagnosed later with autism than others because parents don’t recognize the signs and usually brush it off. They say, ‘Oh they’re a little behind, they’ll catch up,’” Jordan said. “We usually do not identify it until 7 or 8 years of age, when other populations and cultures do at ages 3 or 4.”
Jordan said often times parents are the problem. “There are a lot of parents who know their kids need help and they’re not getting them the help they need.” He also said, that parents often times need help and do not seek treatment themselves. “They wonder why their kid has issues, and a lot of the times it’s because the parents have issues.”
Along with their goals of growing their number of clients and programs, Jordan said ABS is also looking to expand its East Liberty location and open more sites throughout Allegheny County and the surrounding areas.
“We want to be community based. We are looking to open up sites in various areas. A lack of access is one of the key barriers in people, especially our people, getting treatment.” Jordan said. “If we can be in the communities where our people live, then they have access to our services.”
When it comes to the stigma of seeking mental health treatment, Jordan said, “If you feel like you need to get some help, get help. We’re here. It’s not about worrying what other people are thinking, it’s about getting help.”
(For more information on Adaptive Behavioral Services, call 412-661-7790 or visit www.adaptivebehavioralservices.com)
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