Conference helps destigmatize mental health care for African-Americans

Af Am Conference

Mental health care is not one-size-fits-all. Different cultures may stigmatize mental illness, creating a barrier for people who need help. The Central Texas African American Family Support Conference (CTAASFC), hosted by Integral Care, invites African American and mental health leaders from across the community to share and learn how to navigate those barriers and increase access to care.

Born from a desire to confront the systems and cultural bias that have resulted in African Americans facing barriers to healthcare access, the inaugural conference was held in November 2000. The CTAASFC is also the only conference in the country where presenters are required to speak from lived experience. One in five people are affected by mental illness and the conference founders stepped up address the issue of awareness in the African American community.

“This conference has just been a blessing to our community and again we want people of all hues and races to come,” Felicia Mason-Edwards, division administrator at Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and conference planning committee member said.

From advocates to caregivers and mental health providers to attorneys, the conference welcomes anyone and everyone in the Austin community and beyond. This year they are intentionally bringing in students from Austin, Round Rock and the Manor School Districts aid them in finding their own voice around these issues.

“We are addressing how we can be accountable to the people we serve and eliminate barriers to care,” said Charlotte S. Caples, owner and CEO of Charlotte Caples Consulting and conference planning committee member. “It is a right to have basic care and wellness. The system is not designed to serve people of color and we all have a role to play in changing this system.”

“Just hearing someone else’s journey gives you permission to live in your own,” Caples said. “For me that is so powerful.”

The conference has pushed providers to offer more culturally competent trainings for their staff. The program each year reminds them to look at their policies and procedures to see how they can provide culturally competent and inclusive services and experiences. It also pushes them to include more voices at the decision-making table. The purpose is to provide attendees with information and education so that they can, in turn, act accordingly in our community.

“There is a seat at the table for everyone and there is enough,” Mason-Edwards said. “There are more than enough seats and if there isn’t a seat, we will make a seat and if we need to extend the table we will extend the table. There is a role for everybody to play.”

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