By Amy Kawata

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on disparities in medical care for some segments of the population, including mental health care.

There is a pressing need to address mental health care disparities in minority communities that tend to experience more severe and persistent mental health conditions with less access to necessary resources.

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“This pandemic has really exposed a need for greater support,” said Clarrissa Taylor-Jackson, director of programs and outreach for NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore

Many of us may know someone who’s impacted by mental health whether we know it or not.

“One in five people experience a mental health condition,” said Jordan Damon, volunteer at NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore.

Jordan Damon, 23, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 17.

“For me as a man, it was harder for me to seek out treatment and that sort of disparity as well as socioeconomic, being black,” said Damon.

“More than 6 million men are living with depression every year. But we also know that men are less likely to go get help than women. Why? Because of stigma,” said Taylor-Jackson.

Advocates with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Baltimore say the disparities in mental health care are systemic and complex.

Racial, ethnic, gender and sexual minority groups experience negative mental health outcomes due to a variety of socioeconomic conditions.

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“Some of the most common ones that we know about are access and cultural competencies,” said Taylor-Jackson. “It could be economic barriers that stops a person from getting access to care, but one that folks really don’t always think about but is still very relevant is cultural competencies. What happens when I show up to the healthcare facility, the outpatient center, the ER, and how am I treated for the care that I need?”

Experts say the pandemic has only exacerbated these issues.

“It’s really about culture and the society we live in where you’re not really allowed to really show emotion and when you pair that with a mental disorder, it becomes something that feels shameful,” said Damon.

That’s why Damon is sharing his own experience to raise awareness in hopes of breaking the stigma of mental health.

“The main thing we can do is just talk about it… just create open, safe spaces,” said Damon.

“Mental health stigma is dangerous and it’s preventing a lot of people from living a quality life simply because they’re too scared or too ashamed to get the help they need to live a better life,” said Taylor-Jackson.

Advocates say all it takes is just one conversation to educate one another and continue that dialogue moving forward.

“We all need to work together to recognize there is an issue,” said Taylor-Jackson.

As part of the Baltimore City Health Department’s “Healthy Baltimore 2020” plan, its goal is to cut health disparities in the city in half over the next 10 years, including mental health.

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