RICHMOND -- Minister Monique Tarver looked out over the crowd gathered in a conference room near City Hall. A white tent card on the table in front of her labeled her role on the panel as "LIVED EXPERIENCE." With a tight smile, she started her story.

"I recognized early on that I did not process things the way everybody else did," she said. "It seemed like I was living in a different world than everybody else was, and I didn't know what to call it."

Years later, Tarver would learn the medical term for "it": depression. She said that during the hardest times, soon after she was diagnosed, she felt shut out of her faith community because of her illness and shut out of the mental health community because of her faith. It took persistence in both worlds, but eventually she came to a new understanding about how the two communities could be reconciled, she said.

"Mental health and faith communities are not this divorced couple," she told the crowd. "They're really this couple that needs some intense counseling so that they can start to talk to each other."

Thursday's panel was part of the second public event in Contra Costa County this summer to bring together faith and community leaders, and the public, to talk about how to overcome stigma and get help for African-Americans suffering from mental health challenges.

Tarver is now a leader in a new statewide initiative focused on overturning stigma around mental illness in the African-American community by leveraging the power of faith to spread a scientific message: People suffering from mental health challenges need to seek professional assistance.


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The California Mental Health Services Authority, with funding through the Mental Health Services Act, supports the initiative, This Way to a Healthy Community.

African-Americans are underserved by the nation's mental health system, with only 1 in 3 receiving treatment, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. They're also far more likely than the general population to stop treatment early and less likely to receive follow-up care.

Focusing on religious institutions, and faith, may be a way to bridge that chasm.

"Spirituality is important to us; we get our messaging from our faith leaders, and when we're having a difficult time, we go to our faith leaders to get the support," said Gigi Crowder, Tarver's colleague and a mental wellness and spirituality specialist.

Thursday's talk largely focused on how to address mental health challenges for at-risk African-American youths, many of which, panelists pointed out, are likely suffering from generational trauma caused by constant violence and fear in their neighborhoods.

"We've got to create safe places for these young people," said DeVone Boggan, director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety, a group that aims to reduce firearm assaults and related violence in Richmond. The first step, he added, is just seeing the problems because "far too often they're invisible."