What Are We Doing About Inequities in the Mental Health System?

Join Skyler’s Workshop on Nov. 9th

We pay a lot of lip service to the notion of equality in America. But most of us don’t know the difference between equality and equity, if we’ve even heard of the latter. In his upcoming workshop, Inequities in the Mental Health System, my peer and co-worker Skyler Rivera clarifies the difference, locating how and why we became more familiar with one term than the other—and the consequences of not valuing or striving for equity.

For many, the concept of equality feels like an American value. Skyler points to how this was inscribed into our social institutions. The Enlightenment Era concept that “all men are created equal” was written into the U.S. Declaration of Independence. But “equality” as defined 245 years ago by the class of white, land-owning men—whose fortunes were often made from the sweat of Black people they enslaved—doesn’t mean the same thing for most of us today.

Over the summer, I attended this workshop, where Skyler quoted Stanford historian Jack Rakove on equality:

“On July 4, 1776, when the Continental Congress adopted the historic text drafted by Thomas Jefferson, they did not intend it to mean individual equality. Rather, what they declared was that American colonists, as a people, had the same rights to self-government as other nations.”

How the meaning of the Declaration of Independence changed over time | Stanford News

That is to say, when America was founded, our constitutional draftsmen were not thinking about whether people of different genders, races, and ethnicities would have the same life chances or access to resources. As Skyler says, “Men and women have not been equal since the founding of America. The whole connotation of ‘equality’ is a farce.” This is not true of equity, meaning freedom from bias or favoritism.

Not only do I second this particular point, I endorse Skyler’s thesis that equality is a bare minimum concept for everyday life, whereas equity is essential to closing outcome gaps among people diagnosed with mental illnesses that exist along gendered and racial lines. Inequities in the mental health system have a body count. If we don’t grasp the difference between these concepts, we can’t attain equity. We can’t even have constructive dialogs about how gender, race, and ethnicity affect our experiences with mental health.

In his Inequities in Mental Health Workshop, Skyler not only explores the difference between equality and equity, he delves into concepts like how we quantify inequity, cultural relativism, stigma, and barriers to accessing support. While he backs up his points with research, perhaps most importantly, Skyler makes these heady concepts accessible by sharing his story. He grounds these sociological concepts in his lived experience as a young adult of mixed race contending with depression and anxiety. In sharing his story, Skyler invites us to take personal responsibility for our roles in the collective struggle to transform the mental health system through peer-led initiatives.

Please join us at JRB for an open forum presented by Skyler Rivera on Inequities in Mental Health on Tuesday, November 9th, 11am-12pm via Zoom. The deadline to register Friday, November 5th. Register here to attend. We look forward to seeing you there!

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