According to The National Council for Mental Well-Being, a survey conducted among 750 behavioral health workers and more than 2,000 U.S. adults, (83%) of the nation’s behavioral health workforce believes that without public policy changes, provider organizations won’t be able to meet the demand for mental health or substance use treatment and care.

Source: National Council for Mental Wellbeing • Graphic by Anissa Durham

Only four percent of mental health professionals in the United States are Black, creating a significant problem for Black therapists and patients. Perhaps even more eye-opening is the wage gap for Black mental health professionals compared to other ethnic groups. Black behavioral health workers make an average of less than $49,000 per year, while all other ethnic groups in the field make at least over $50,000 and more per year.

Data graphic from Zippia, verified against BLS, Census, and current job openings data for accuracy.

We urge policymakers to listen to the voices of those in the field. Behavioral health organizations are seeing an increase in the severity of cases, and a backlog of young people in need of care has led to more youth being seen in emergency departments.

Taking steps now to bolster the workforce through increased recruitment and retention efforts and the continued expansion of Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics will give organizations that provide mental health treatment and substance use care the resources they need to meet capacity.”

Chuck Ingoglia, National Council for Mental Wellbeing President and CEO

What Causes Lack of Representation?

13% of the US population is Black and only a third represent Black mental health providers; you can see where there’s a disconnect or disparity which is caused by an increased need that COVID exacerbated.

6 out of 10 mental health providers state that they can’t accept new clients, and 72% state new patients must wait longer to be seen than pre-COVID.

Over 150 million Americans live in an area with mental health care shortages. American Medical Colleges predicts that mental health professionals across the board will be overtaxed in the coming years due to the rise in need since the pandemic.

Lack of representation is tied to race-related issues, such as:

  • Financial Barriers
  • Lack of Training & Mentorship
  • Unsupportive Educational Environments
  • Biased Licensure Testing

Wealth disparities can leave Black students at a disadvantage in regard to paying for essential post-graduate training.

There isn’t much support for people of color with behavioral health training and mentorship. Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) have a more challenging time getting letters of recommendation and finding a place within the industry than whites.

According to this Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) report, BIPOC test-takers are less likely than white test-takers to pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam, and biased test questions are considered the problem.

How to Support Black Mental Health Providers?

Lyra Health started a program in 2022. Amber Herrera, senior clinical training lead and director of the fellowship program at Lyra, says it provides those seeking licensure with a much easier process than most associate clinical social workers face. Herrera says, “Being part of a program that really focuses on supporting fellows is something special.”

The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and NAMI Texas; has a program called Sharing Hope, an excellent resource for Texas residents.

Here you can find help in Texas with:

  • Adult Mental Health
  • Children’s Mental Health
  • Crisis Services
  • Adult & Youth Substance Use

Mental health is a serious issue, especially coming out of a pandemic. Mental health professionals need adequate support as much as patients; without them, everyone loses.