African-Americans Reluctant to Treat Mental Illness

Monarch Board Member Working to Change Perception

Laverne WilliamsOn June 29, 2015, WNYC featured a report, “African-Americans Reluctant to Treat Mental Illness.”

The news story highlighted the work of Monarch Housing Associates’ newest Board member Laverne Williams.

Laverne Williams, a social worker working for the Mental Health Association of New Jersey (MHANJ) and deacon at her church in Verona works to change that perception that African-Americans are reluctant to treat mental illness.

“If you’re hearing voices, God is not speaking to you – all the time. If you’re hearing voices, you need to get some medication.”

Williams said.

So Williams founded PEWS, Promoting Emotional Wellness and Spirituality. Since 2005, she has trained about 6,000 clergy and lay leaders in New Jersey to better recognize mental illness, and how to link congregants to resources.

She came up with the idea after she developed panic attacks that began when her sister was dying of lung cancer. Because she’s in the field, she knew to get help, and looked for an African American therapist who might better understand her experiences. But they’re rare. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the percentage of black psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers is in the single digits.

She combed the phone book for a clinician whose last name was Williams, hoping he or she might be black. But the woman who called back was white.

“At first I thought, ‘Oh man, I don’t want to tell a white woman my business,’” Williams recalled. “But then I said, ‘I don’t want these panic attacks, either.’” Williams saw the therapist for a few months, and she helped.

Through her work at MHANJ, Williams founded Promoting Emotional Wellness and Spirituality (PEWS.) Since 2005, she has trained about 6,000 clergy and lay leaders across New Jersey to better recognize mental illness and how to link congregants to treatment resources.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the percentage of black psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers is in the single digits.

Click here for the WNYC news story.

Click here to learn more about PEWS.