As part of our Advocating for Better Care Education Series, we will hear from experts on how to achieve the best care for loved ones diagnosed with a mood disorder. This post is an interview with Sandra Edmonds Crewe, MSW, PhD, ACSW. Dr. Crewe is dean and Professor of Social Work at Howard University. She is also a NASW Pioneer©. Dr. Crewe holds an MSW from the National Catholic School of Social Service and a PhD in social work from Howard University. Formerly Director of Howard University Multidisciplinary Gerontology Center, Dr. Crewe is principal investigator of a SAMHSA Mental Health Awareness Training grant.

What role do you think family caregivers can play in assisting their loved ones with accessing mental health care?

The first and most significant role is to recognize that mental health care is essential to a strong caregiving relationship. When family caregivers recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health concerns, they can be initiative-taking in addressing the need for care. Family members can contact mental health organizations and providers and identify practitioners who are aligned with their cultural needs. Also, it is important to identify providers that accept the forms of payment that the family has and to get a sense of wait periods (if any). Family caregivers should normalize mental health as a part of the health care needs of an individual.

What advice would you give BIPOC family caregivers if there are no mental health providers matching the cultural background of their loved one in their area?

Providers of mental health care are trained to work with diverse cultures. While a cultural match is sometimes preferred, it is not an absolute for quality care. I would seek someone who has experience with the specific mental health concern that has surfaced. Referrals from a faith community sometimes can support the cultural needs of the family member. Additionally, telehealth is an option if the cultural needs are best addressed by a person with shared cultural identity.

What can a BIPOC family caregiver do if they suspect that their loved one is being discriminated against or receiving a lower quality of care by a mental health provider?

Because mental health is so important, I strongly urge a change in care provider if there is a sense of discrimination. Too much damage can be done if this is not addressed. Discrimination has no place in a therapeutic relationship—thus the family member should act if they feel it exists. Depending on the situation, one can also confront the provider with the concerns or report the discrimination to the licensing authority. This might result in a grievance or other sanction for the provider.

What is one way the mental health care system can change to better serve people of color?

Community-based mental health programs should be a priority. The mental health care system should invest more in the education of individuals from all ethnic and racial groups, especially individuals who are committed to work in underserved neighborhoods. This requires advocating at federal levels for loan forgiveness, scholarships, etc. that support marginalized and underrepresented groups. I also suggest replacing colorblind, color-neutral approaches to service delivery with person-centered approaches. The experience of each patient should be centered on patient needs and not system “constructed” needs.