Minority Mental Health Month
July 01, 2021
Lynn Conner, LCSW, Primary Therapist
Over the past year and half, we have experienced a global pandemic, state shut-downs and social unrest. The nation collectively grieved and continues to grieve lives lost to violence and racial disparities. Health inequities are still prevalent and pervasive and need to be addressed. So now is as good a time as ever to highlight the unique challenges that Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) face in regards to mental health. July is BIPOC or Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which gives us the opportunity to acknowledge, advocate for, and learn about these unique challenges.
Race and Mental Health
The death of George Floyd was the first time some people witnessed an act of racism so gut-wrenching that it affected their sleep at night. However, Black Americans have been losing sleep over systemic racism and injustice for centuries, and George Floyd was yet another heartbreaking loss that was all too familiar. As we watch these events unfold time and time again, Black Americans often find themselves asking these terrifying questions: “Am I the next name or hashtag? Are one of my friends or family members next? Will things ever change?”
As a nation, we have also seen an increase in Anti-Asian hate crimes in 2021. According to a new study by the Center of Hate Crimes and Extremism, Asian targeted hate crimes have increased more than 100% since 2020. Many Asians and Asian-Americans have been subjected to racial slurs, physical violence, threats, and other unimaginable acts. The uptick in violence towards Asian people is often connected to the rhetoric that blames Asian people for the spread of COVID-19. As a result of this hateful rhetoric, many Asian people are being unfairly targeted.
The trauma and psychological distress that occurs from experiencing racism directly and witnessing others that look like you also experience racism, can often lead to the development of mental health conditions over time.
On top of life stressors, challenges, and hardships that are a part of the universal human experience, people of color are also navigating through racial trauma, discrimination, and disparities in access to care. As a result, minority groups are disproportionately more likely than the general population to experience mental health concerns and symptoms of psychological distress at some point in their lifetime.
Mental Health Stigma in Minority Communities
As a mental health professional, I recognize that one of the biggest barriers to treatment for many clients is the societal stigma they face daily. Clients battle shame about their mental health struggles that prevent them from seeking treatment due to the way mental health is discussed in their families, in their social circles, and portrayed in the media. While the stigma of mental health is detrimental to everyone, the way minority groups experience this stigma is even more nuanced. Many minority groups are hesitant to seek treatment for mental health concerns because they were raised to see mental health struggles as a “weakness” or that mental health concerns are something to be whispered about privately rather than discussed openly.
Some people of color don’t seek out treatment for fear of being further marginalized by receiving a formal mental health diagnosis.
In Black and Latinx communities specifically, seeking support from our faith communities is often reason enough to neglect also seeking care from mental health professionals. Even though therapy is becoming more widely accepted in our nation, minority groups are still vastly underrepresented in the utilization of mental health services. This is largely due to the stigma that exists both within and outside of minority communities, and due to the lack of diversity or cultural awareness of many mental health providers.
How To Help
Educating ourselves on the challenges faced by minority groups in reference to mental health is only the first step. We must next turn this knowledge into action by using it to facilitate change.
Here is a list of ways we can best support the mental health awareness efforts for minorities and BIPOC:
- Educate ourselves on systemic racism and do the work to be actively anti-racist.
- Promote diversity in our mental health organizations by advocating for more minority staff and leadership members at mental health agencies in our communities.
- Help end the stigma of mental health in minority communities by talking openly and freely about mental health struggles and resources.
- Promote cultural awareness in businesses and work places by celebrating diversity and educating ourselves on those who are different from us.
- Create spaces that are safe for BIPOC to share their stories and then listen and validate their experiences.
- Advocate for BIPOC both publicly and privately by signing petitions that fight for minority rights, and donating time and/or money to organizations that create opportunities for BIPOC.
- Stay committed to diversity by diversifying our work places, communities, and social circles and creating opportunities for BIPOC to lead in those spaces.
Self-Care For BIPOC
Additionally, we must acknowledge the importance of self-care. Current events can trigger memories of fear, pain, and injustice that minority communities have experienced for generations, which is only amplified by mass media and the ability to now record racism.
Here are some self-care tips for BIPOC:
- Allow yourself to feel however you need to feel. It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be sad, and it’s okay to feel lost.
- Find a trusted social support to share your feelings with and allow them the opportunity to hold space for you.
- Make an appointment with your therapist to process the pain of current events. If you don’t have a therapist, it may be a great time to try therapy for the first time.
- Take some time off of social media if it becomes too overwhelming for you. It’s okay to unplug.
- Take some time doing something you enjoy. Go for a walk, call a friend, try cooking a new recipe, or anything else that brings you joy. See the link below for more self-care practices you can use every day, especially during this time.
- Be gentle with yourself and practice self-compassion.
- Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders can be effectively treated with therapy and/or medication. Please follow up with your primary care physician, pediatrician or schedule an appointment with a specialist in mental health (psychiatrist) if you or a loved one are in need.
More Self-Care Practices You Can Do At Home