Knocking Down Treatment Barriers for Minorities

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mahoning Valley agencies are knocking down social barriers that have affected minorities seeking treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board has partnered with OCCHA – Organizacion Civica y Cultural Hispana Americana – to provide translation services at treatment agencies to eliminate language barriers.

Brenda Heidinger, associate director for the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, says the board worked with OCCHA to secure a grant to employ a mental health navigator to provide resources for mental and behavioral health needs. She adds that Catholic Charities employs a Spanish-speaking social worker to assist clients.

“A few years ago, a class of 20 bilingual Spanish- speaking individuals were trained and many are still employed in Mahoning County agencies. They can provide group and individual counseling, under supervision, to allow the treatment to occur in Spanish if the client is more comfortable,” Heidinger says.

The board added a community engagement and outreach coordinator a few years ago to provide information and resources to the community through health fairs, businesses and churches.

“In September, we will be launching a grant funded initiative collaboration with the Youngstown Office of Minority Health [to target] racial and ethnic minorities to move past getting the information and [to] make the appointment, participate in and receive the care needed,” Heidinger says.

For prevention services and education, the board is partnered with the Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program and its executive director, Darryl Alexander.

YUMADAOP is focused on preventing and reducing the misuse of substances and other behavioral health issues by providing culturally appropriate, evidence-based prevention strategies to youth.

The nonprofit agency offers nine classroom-based curricula for behavioral health needs such as  substance misuse, violence, gambling and re-entry.

“You’re going through a very structured curriculum with groups of youth. You’re touching on a number of things: strategies to reduce stress, empowering youth to prevent violence, how the media might influence our actions. So, you’re incorporating fun activities with critical thinking skills,” Alexander says.

One program that targets community members and professionals shows how to implement culturally appropriate strategies on a personal level.

“Different people connect in different ways. We have to be very honest and sensitive to that,” Alexander says. “[In the 1980s,] people of color with addiction issues were going into treatment centers and there wasn’t a good success rate. People were going in and then leaving [because] the cultural differences weren’t being addressed.”

In 2020, the Ohio Department of Health reported that unintentional drug overdose trends had changed. “Black non-Hispanic males had the highest drug overdose death rate in Ohio compared with other sex and race/ethnicity groups.”

Alexander says cultural disparities are still prevalent. But Youngstown is fortunate to have a vast network of treatment and education centers.

With substance abuse most prevalent among young adults, Alexander says targeting younger children with prevention strategies and education for adults will set up a healthy future.

“Long term, we’re talking [about] a healthy community. A community where people are working, contributing to local taxes. … It’s important to the employment and vitality of a community. We’re talking about healthy communities because addiction ravages families. We’re talking about youth progressing and doing well educationally,” Alexander said.

The next step for Alexander is breaking down institutional barriers. He says there could always be more collaboration among treatment agencies and institutions, such as  school systems, to increase the impact of prevention and be more proactive.