It’s National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month—Here’s Why That’s So Important
"Once my loved ones accepted the diagnosis, healing began for the entire family, but it took too long. It took years. Can't we, as a nation, begin to speed up that process?”
So asked Bebe Moore Campbell, an author, teacher, and mental health advocate whose work eventually led to the creation of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Because while mental health care should be affordable and accessible to all, that’s not always the case—and that’s especially true for BIPOC communities.
Bebe Moore Campbell’s legacy lives on in National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a month dedicated to reflecting on the mental health needs of underserved groups. Here’s what to know about National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, why it’s important, and a few guiding resources for bridging the gap in mental health care.
What is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month?
Recognized in July, National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month brings awareness to the specific struggles faced by BIPOC communities regarding mental health illness and care in the United States. Throughout the month, allies and community organizers share tools and resources about de-stigmatizing mental health among BIPOC communities, as well as ways to improve access to affordable, high-quality mental health care.
This awareness month was established in 2008 in recognition of the work Bebe Moore Campbell did to champion the Black community’s lack of accessibility to mental health care. While her daughter struggled with mental health issues, Campbell found herself fighting a system that kept her daughter from getting any meaningful support. Frustrated and fed up, she founded NAMI Inglewood in a predominantly Black neighborhood, building a space for the community to talk openly about their mental health issues—with the appropriate resources available.
Why is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month important?
Mental health doesn’t discriminate. It affects a widespread group of people—people of all races, genders, socioeconomic status, and more.
Want specifics? We’ve got them. According to Mental Health America, people who identify with two or more races are more likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group. In addition, 17% of the Black community report dealing with mental illness, as do 15% of the Latinx/Hispanic community, 13% of the Asian American/Pacific Islander community, and 23% of the Native American and Indigenous communities.
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BIPOC communities face more barriers to mental health care
However, not all communities have equal access to mental health resources, and the BIPOC community faces more barriers to care than white communities do. Research from Counseling Today shows that, when compared to people who are white, a BIPOC person is:
- Less likely to have access to mental health services
- Less likely to seek out services
- Less likely to receive needed care
- More likely to receive poor quality of care
- More likely to end services prematurely
Put it all together, and BIPOC communities just aren’t set up for success in order to get the mental health care we all deserve. The work that a BIPOC person has to do in order to find a therapist, a psychiatrist, or a counseling center is much more difficult than what a white person might need to do (much of which goes back to the systemic barriers Black communities face in health care).
And that doesn’t even begin to take into account maybe the biggest barrier of all: overcoming the stigma of mental health issues.
The mental health stigma in BIPOC communities
For most people, talking about mental health is uncomfortable. It might be a topic we broach with only our nearest friends and closest family. But in many BIPOC communities, talking about mental health goes way past being a little awkward; it’s totally taboo.
The reasons vary among different BIPOC communities. For example, Victor Armstrong, a member of the National Council for Behavioral Health’s Board of Directors, notes that “For many in the African American community, our story is one of perseverance and resilience. After all, we survived slavery; surely, we can survive “sadness” or “anxiety.” In this mindset, anything less would be considered spiritual or moral weakness.”
In AAPI communities, meanwhile, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that AAPI people are the most likely to quote the following reasons for not receiving mental health treatment:
- Didn’t want others to find out
- Confidentiality concerns
- Fear of neighbors’ negative opinions
Moreover, mental health issues are often interpreted as a parenting failure. So, protecting the family’s reputation often takes precedence over a mental health crisis.
So, how can we improve access to mental health care?
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On to the action items. Whether or not you’re a part of the BIPOC community, and whether or not you’re currently struggling with a mental health issue, there are some amazing resources out there that deserve to be highlighted.
The Aakoma Project starts the mental health conversation early with BIPOC teens, building a strong foundation for mental health awareness and involving caretakers in recognizing the importance of mental health.
Asians for Mental Health is a regularly-updated directory of APPI therapists. This organization was created by Dr. Jenny Wang for the Asian community to feel seen, heard, and empowered in their mental health journey.
Therapy for Black Girls prioritizes the mental well-being of Black women and girls through a therapist directory, a community forum, and a free podcast dedicated to mental health.
Inclusive Therapists connects people with therapists who specialize in underrepresented and marginalized communities, including people of color, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities.
And one more thing you can do: if you identify as BIPOC and you feel comfortable sharing your mental health journey, consider doing so with the support of your friends, family, and mental health caretakers. You never know who might be watching or listening, hoping to hear from someone they can relate to—and you just might be the person to make a difference.
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