“While everyone – all colors – everyone is affected by stigma – no one wants to say, ‘I’m not in control of my mind.’ No one wants to say, ‘The person I love is not in control of [their] mind.’ But people of color really don’t want to say it because we already feel stigmatized by virtue of skin color or eye shape or accent and we don’t want any more reasons for anyone to say, ‘You’re not good enough.’”American author, journalist, teacher and mental health advocate
Take a moment and think about where the nearest hospital or health center is to your current location. Now pause again to think about where the nearest mental health provider is to your current location. Which exercise was easier for you? It is likely that you were able to quickly identify the hospital or health center while it may have taken longer to recall the nearest mental health provider because of the importance placed on physical health as opposed to mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year. We need to start talking about and treating mental health illness in the same way that we do physical illness.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama stated during her remarks at the Change Direction Mental Health Event in 2015, “Whether an illness affects your heart, your leg or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there should be no distinction. Because we know that mental health is just as important to our overall well-being as our physical health.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, Mental Health Equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their highest level of mental health and emotional wellbeing. Experiencing discrimination or trauma based on aspects of identity such as race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion and more leads to a serious mental health burden. This mental health burden can negatively affect physical, mental and emotional health, and in some cases lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In turn, the state of a person’s health can influence the way someone functions, and their relationships at school, work or home.
One way to progress toward equity in mental health is to reduce stigma around the issue, which would encourage more people to seek care when it is needed. It is also important to acknowledge the importance of representation within mental health care. As of 2015, eighty-six percent (86%) of psychologists within the United States were white, 5% were Asian, 5% were Hispanic, 4% were Black/African-American, and 1% were multiracial or from other racial/ethnic groups (American Psychological Association). Provider diversity is important because without it, patients run the risk of not being understood or being able to receive the appropriate treatment from a provider who is taking the patients’ beliefs, culture and other facets of life into account. Providers also need to consider systems like white supremacy and colonization that may have caused trauma and affected the mental wellbeing of the patient being treated.
Each July, BeBe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (or more recently referred to as BIPOC Mental Health Month) is observed to bring awareness to the challenges racial and ethnic minority groups face regarding mental health. To find more information and how to get involved, click here in addition to exploring the resources provided below.