Mental health and illness is a serious issue, particularly among African American, Latino and other minority groups.
Dr. Stephanie LeMelle is a psychiatry professor at Columbia University, with a private psychiatric practice in Northern Manhattan.
Q: As an African American, what brought you to psychiatry given the concerns many Black people have with mental health treatment?
A: When I began medical school, I was against psychiatry for many of the same reasons that a lot of African Americans are. I thought that it was manipulative, based on European standards, and laced with Freudian theories that either blamed mothers and women for mental health issues or made the issues sexually related. But as I got to know more about psychiatry and about severe and persistent forms of mental illness, I realized how devastating and life changing these illnesses are. I also began to understand that psychiatrists can actually help people get better or at least control their illnesses and live more functional lives.
Q: How would you rate the mental health treatment that African Americans, Latinos and other marginalized groups receive?
A: Working in the mental health field, I have realized that people with severe and persistent mental illness are not getting the mental health care or the medical care that they need. I feel that minorities, in general, are not really benefiting from mental health services and part of my mission is to try and make a change in this health care disparity.
Q: Who do you serve and what types of mental health issues do you treat?
A: My training, background, and interests are in psychotic disorders, so most of the patients I work with at the New York Psychiatric Institute in Washington Heights have severe and persistent mental illness such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. My patients are primarily recent immigrants from the Dominican Republic. I also care for a spattering of folks from Cuba, Puerto Rico and West Africa as well. In my private practice, I tend to see patients who primarily have anxiety and depressive disorders. They generally come from more diverse ethnic backgrounds, but there are so few African American psychiatrists in private practice that I do treat a lot of patients from this ethnic group.