Wood Library opens three-part virtual series on mental health and treatment; continues Wednesday and Thursday

Wood Library in Canandaigua held a virtual panel discussion Tuesday night through Zoom, discussing the impact of structural racism on society when it comes to mental health. Throughout the conversation, panelists addressed the death of Daniel Prude in March at the hands of Rochester police, and how it highlighted problems and gaps in care for underserved communities.

The panel featured Sim Covington, chief diversity officer of Academic and Student Affairs for Finger Lakes Community College; J. Ricky Price, visiting assistant professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges; Luticha Doucette, project manager for Project REAL in Rochester; and Wood Library Adult Services Librarian Alexis Lawrence.

Covington began the discussion by highlighting the numerous barriers to mental health treatment that can exist for people of color.

“If you do not feel validated, you do not feel welcome,” Covington said, especially if there are barriers between the practitioner and the patient in terms of understanding.

“When I walk through the door, am I going to see someone who has had a similar life or shared experience?” he added.

Covington also shared his computer screen as he talked, highlighting various statistics to reinforce his case through a PowerPoint presentation, including the disparities between who receives mental health services and who does not. As a result, Covington said, people of color are more often than not referred to state institutions or the justice system for their disabilities, something that often starts in the school system.

“A lot of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds feel unsafe around law enforcement. A lot of times individuals who come from diverse backgrounds may get referred to the judicial system,” while still in the school system, Covington said — something that can follow them throughout the rest of their life.

“When it comes to these intangible aspects of discrimination,” the after effects can be very real, he added.

Price's discussion focused more on health policy, and how it can shape mistreatment or a lack of treatment among underserved communities. As a scholar whose research has focused on HIV and AIDS in terms of activism and policy, Price made several connections between the AIDS epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic and how policies for both impacted nonwhite communities more severely.

“This pattern is not an accident,” Price said.

While Price said he believed the statistics around who’s been harmed more by COVID-19 is less susceptible to “gaslighting,” that hasn’t necessarily changed the response from public officials.

“COVID-19 continues to show how [the policies around the disease] unmatters black lives,” Price said, adding that “you are responsible for your health in America, even to the point of criminalization.

“We have created politics and policy that have shortened the lives of black and brown people,” he said, adding how, with recent protests in Rochester around the death of Prude, there was room to be optimistic.

“This is the hope that transformation gives us,” Price said.

Acting as moderator, Doucette then opened the discussion up to questions and comments from viewers, reading them aloud for the panelists to answer. One question focused on how to get the existing systems to change their policies. Another question seemed more skeptical of creating any change by lobbying the existing systems, noting how historically resistant institutions can often be.

For Price, addressing the second question meant exploring one recent demand for universal healthcare, describing how for many, the private healthcare insurance industry, as a massive employer, can often make forward momentum difficult.

“So that’s always really, really uncomfortable, when it comes to making a change uprooting existing systems,” Price said.

“The individuals coming from a higher power dynamic aren’t going to want to give that up,” Covington added. “It’s very important when you’re having that conversation, that may be coming from a stance of empathy, but everyone is not going to operate with that level of empathy. I think it’s important to be strategic and think about what that looks like.”

As the discussion wrapped up around 8:30 p.m., both Covington and Price offered closing thoughts for people who may want to get more involved in addressing the issues addressed.

Covington suggested people operate “with a level of intentionality,” in their community, by creating or participating in a platform “to create change.”

Price offered a question to ask oneself: “How do I continue growing, learning as a human being? Become aware of your biases for one thing, but keep learning.

“How do you extend solidarity with others? How do I listen to people I wouldn’t otherwise talk to,” he added, mentioning people from history such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, along with more recent activists, such as the protesters in Rochester.

“Try to be inspired by those folks in the past and present,” Price said.

Doucette also encouraged actions on the part of viewers, saying  it was key for achieving real change.

“Thought without action are daydreams, and daydreams are nice, but don’t really get us anywhere,” Doucette said.

The panel was the first of three, with others scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, exploring race and racism in politics and the media.