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Observing Juneteenth and Supporting Mental Health Equity

  • June 17, 2021
  • APA Leadership

This weekend, we acknowledge and observe Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day that the end of slavery was announced in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. Juneteenth has been celebrated by the Black community since the late 1800s. Now, pending President Biden’s signature, expected this afternoon, it will be a federal holiday in recognition of the end of the dark chapter of human slavery in America, and the start of the long march towards equality for the Black community.

Juneteenth represents freedom and justice for Black Americans, and in recognition of that it is appropriate for us to pause and reflect on how important ending structural racism and promoting mental health equity is for the Black community, other communities of color, and our society at large.

Incidents of police brutality and the uneven impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have highlighted the prevalence of structural racism in our society, and shown us that some lives, Black lives and the lives of other people of color, are not fully valued. At the APA, we felt that reflecting on our history and examining the role that our organization and psychiatry have played in perpetuating structural racism was essential for APA in learning how to be an antiracist organization.

We know that part of that process is listening to members who have experienced injustice firsthand,  and with that in mind APA’s Division of Diversity and Health Equity (DDHE) has organized a series of “Fireside Chats” centered around frank discussions of the issues facing the Black community and other minority/underrepresented groups. Open and honest conversations around these issues are critical as we work to take action to address structural racism in a meaningful way.

These efforts will help inform the work of the APA Task Force on Social Determinants of Mental Health, established by APA President Vivian Pender, M.D., over the next year. Through APA councils, caucuses and administration led by DDHE, these efforts will build on the past work of the APA Task Force on Structural Racism. You can view a Juneteenth video message from Dr. Pender here.

We hope you’ll join us in observing Juneteenth, which APA started as a paid holiday for staff in 2020, and consider supporting APA in our efforts to promote diversity and mental health equity in the United States. In this time of reflection and growth, let us look forward, and work together toward a new era of freedom, justice and equality for all.

Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., FRCPE, FRCPsych,
CEO & Medical Director,
American Psychiatric Association

Regina James, M.D.,
Chief, Diversity & Health Equity,
and Deputy Medical Director,
American Psychiatric Association

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