Panel discusses mental health and race in N.O. (Louisiana Weekly. July 2015).


Times-Picayune columnist Jarvis DeBerry told the dozens assembled at the New Orleans Jazz Market in Central City on Tuesday, June 20 the story of Alfred Postell, picked up for homelessness in Washington D.C. and charged with sleeping outside a building. Postell wished to defend himself in court, having graduated from Harvard Law school in 1978—alongside Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. “Even with all his intelligence,” DeBerry came to his point, “he ended up on the streets in a very desperate situation.”

In honor of national Minority Mental Health Month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hosted this panel regarding mental health and race in New Orleans. Led by DeBerry, the discussion, titled Minorities Use Mental Health Services Much Less than White Counterparts with Disastrous Consequences, also featured Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, forensic psychiatrist and New Orleans Coroner Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, retired Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Calvin Johnson, NAMI board member and licensed professional counselor Chantrelle Varnado-Johnson, plus Charlotte Parent, director of health for the City of New Orleans, and Lisa Romback, NAMI’s local executive director.

Deberry began with a broad question: “What’s the difference between a white person and a person of color receiving treatment?” According to the NAMI, 40 percent of whites will seek mental health services, down 15 percent for African Americans and Latinos to about 25 percent, and even less for Asians. Because, NAMI claims, homelessness, family trauma, crime, and addiction all have roots in untreated mental health issues, New Orleans in particular would benefit from focusing on mental health.

Dr. Rouse, who ran the mental health division of the coroner’s office following Hurricane Katrina, explained that he and his office exist partly to help people get mental health aid. “One thing unique to NOLA: the coroners are also the goalies so to speak, the last ditch effort in someone not hurting themselves or others through substance abuse and mental illness,” Dr. Rouse explained. “It’s always better to want to get help…but some people don’t want the treatment…so as a last ditch effort a person can call the coroners office at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning or whatever, and we can start walking that person through the process of getting someone involuntarily committed.” Though extreme sounding, an order of protective custody, as it’s called, protects those with mental health issues from being labeled criminals, says Dr. Rouse: “An OPC is not a criminal charge and doesn’t go on a person’s record. It’s to get people into the treatment system so they don’t end up in jail…or in the back of my office. It’s kind of like an order to the police department so they pick the person up and take them to the hospital, not arrest them.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of this piece at Louisiana Weekly…

Or watch Dr. Craig Coenson discuss New Orleans’s mental health crisis in The Hot Seat: 

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