BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month: When We Know Better, We Do Better

July kicks off BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month — a time that raises awareness about unique struggles that underrepresented groups face when it comes to mental health. According to the 2019 Census, 41.8% of the U.S. population are People of Color and 13.5% were born in a different country.

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) is a person-first language that has been gaining momentum as it enables us to shift away from terms like “marginalized” and “minority,” which suggest inferiority. However, this language does lend itself to criticism among some communities of color. While one community may embrace it, another may perceive it as falling short of capturing the complex experiences of various communities of color.

Maya Angelou is quoted as saying “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” As we continue to evolve around our understanding of the complexities of the human experience, particularly around the nuances of race and culture, we can expect language to shift in response to our growing understanding. No one does this perfectly all the time, but the important thing is that we all continue to challenge ourselves to better understand the risk and protective factors that impact mental wellness within communities of color

Mental health has a significant impact on our physical health because it affects how we think, feel, and interact with the world around us. In fact, it might be most accurate to say that mental health IS health.

Yet, data shows that there are notable disparities in availability, quality, and accessibility to mental health services for BIPOC communities. People of color are less likely to receive diagnosis and treatment for mental illness, have less access to mental health services, and often receive a poorer quality of mental health care.

Depending on any given situation, cultural, social, and familial factors have the potential to serve as both protective and risk factors when it comes to our mental health. We know that stigma serves as a barrier to mental health care for all people, but it can be amplified within some communities of color.

table of risk factors

While we know that strong support systems at home, school, work, and in the community can act as protective factors that can contribute to an individual’s mental health and wellbeing, our traditional thinking about mental health is grounded in the deep assumption that mental health outcomes are driven by individual choices and that individuals are responsible for their own mental health.

We are learning that it’s much larger than that. While professional therapy can provide people with specific skills that enable them to process feelings, effective treatment must address the social and environmental factors that underlie an individual’s mental health issues. This includes addressing toxic stress environments or social dynamics, finding ways to improve someone’s living or financial situation, or helping them access better social services (e.g., childcare, parenting support programs).

Learn more about the challenges and stigma BIPOC communities face when it comes to mental health. Join us on a video journey of stories that discuss how race, culture, and mental health intersect.

 A Brief but Spectacular Take on Asian American Mental Health

It can be difficult for different cultural groups to honor the values of their cultures while advocating for the mental health needs of themselves or others in their communities. In this video, Clinical Psychologist, Christine Catipon shares her memories around mental health while growing up Filipina. She reflects on the line that she must walk between honoring her culture’s value of kapwa (a sense of connectedness) while simultaneously working to dismantle barriers that keep people away from getting the help they need.

Mental Health, Physical Health, and Culture

Eman is a member of the Muslim community who talks about the challenges around culture and physical treatment while living with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Because her family does not believe in mental health, she recalls not being allowed to talk about her mental health with her family, despite experiencing struggles at an early age. In this video, Eman reflects on the stigma that she navigates every day around taboos and pressures on women that impact her ability to be open about her mental health diagnosis.

Top 5 Reasons Hispanic/Latinos Don’t Seek Mental Health Care

There is a common misconception in many cultures that seeking mental health care is only for people living with mental illness. In the LatinX community, therapy is often an idea that cannot be “believed in” for fear of threatening the strength of one’s faith and self-sufficiency. This cultural stigma results in significantly decreased levels of mental health care access. 27% of LatinX individuals with a probable need for mental health care reported that they would seek mental health treatment versus the 40% of their white counterparts. In this video, psychotherapist, Dr. Lisa Cortez reflects on the observations she’s made over the course of her career around and mental illness within the LatinX community.

Reimagining Mental Health Discourse Among African Americans

African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health challenges, including serious depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicide. In addition to the complex trauma of discrimination, racism, and exposure to violence that create risk factors, cultural barriers discourage Black communities from talking about mental health and seeking professional help. In this video, Shawn J. Fletcher, Ph.D. talks of his awakening and introduction to mental health – a panic attack – and uses his experience to call out the stress that Black communities experience as they wade through the pressure of maintaining a multitude of identities and talks about mental health in a meaningful way on a very public platform.

Latino Students on Why It’s Hard to Talk about Mental Health

Minimizing mental illness by refusing to talk about feelings in public or at home, making fun of people who may be experiencing symptoms, or hiding, shaming, or invalidating family members with mental illness are all common reactions to cultural stigma. Not being able to verbalize how a person feels can increase isolation and the effects of depression and anxiety. It impacts our ability to operate at our optimal levels and can have an especially significant impact on our youth. In this video, Latino students share the ways that shame and disgrace (cultural stigma) have negatively impacted their ability to take care of their own mental health.

Indigenous Mental Health and Self Love

Anthony Johnson reflects on the journey to find his place in the world as an Indigenous person. He talks of having to be a “social chameleon” while growing up multiracial on a Navajo reservation which began the process of investigating and exploring his identities throughout different periods of his life. Anthony is open about his mental health and encourages others to do the same. He is proof that healing begins with loving yourself.

Building strong mental health enables us all to participate in life and accomplish our goals. North Range, in collaboration with numerous community partners, offers a variety of supports and programs that ensure the most effective care for clients. At the same time, we must continually work harder to learn about and better understand the multi-layered experiences of all the clients we serve.

*U.S. Census. (2019). Quick Facts.

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