ASK JANICE SPECIAL: Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

A FEW CAVEATS

I have a few caveats before we dive into this important topic. First of all, I recognize the problem with the term “minority” in 2021. Same with BIPOC or any other alphabet label out there. But debates over labels shouldn’t take away from the importance of raising awareness and advocating for mental wellness specifically for people who’ve often been left out of these conversations. Here in the United States, that usually means anyone who isn’t white, cis-gendered, non-disabled, and hetero.

Secondly, I also understand that we’ve gone a little overboard with all these awareness months. Prior to social media, was there even such a thing as an awareness month? I honestly can’t remember. But these days, there’s an awareness month for every cause imaginable. Which kind of makes you wonder if they’re even effective anymore.

My final caveat is that my advocacy focuses on mental health and wellness for Black people, and not all so-called minorities. My reason for this is simple: I’m not a minority mental health expert. I’m just a Black woman who has battled mental illness for almost four decades. I only know what I know based on my lived experiences and non-scholarly research.

WHY OUR OWN AWARENESS MONTH

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), July is actually the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Campbell authored several best-selling books and used her platform to advocate for mental health. A Black woman who sadly died from brain cancer in 2006, she was also a member of NAMI who battled mental illness.

You can go to NAMI’s website and learn that the awareness month was established in 2008 to start changing the fact that “background and identity can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult.” As NAMI CEO Daniel H. Gillison says on their website,

“The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real and cannot be ignored.”

Read that again.

When it comes to mental health and damn near everything else in this country, white people and Black people have very different experiences. Like the title of my favorite Bebe Moore Campbell book says, “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine”. 

The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the vast disparities between Blacks and whites when it comes to health care, in general. With mental health, those disparities are exponentially worse.

So, yes. We do need our “own” mental health awareness month.

REALITY CHECK

Because the reality is that a lot of us are not ok. The so-called “racial reckoning” in our country, coupled with the rise in racist attacks and incidents affects us all, whether we acknowledge it or not. You can’t be a Black American and not feel the weight of the past few years. Unless you’re a member of the “coon class”, as I call it. (Y’all know exactly who I’m talking about here.) Add to that all the historical baggage we carry, and you have to recognize that white supremacy and racism has messed us all up pretty bad.

Then we had the pandemic, which ravaged our families, and kept us isolated and scared for more than a year. Statistics show increased substance abuse, domestic and intimate partner violence, and suicide attempts as a direct result of COVID-19. Not to mention the devastating economic impact the pandemic had on Black people, in particular.

With all that’s been happening, it’s no wonder so many of us suffer mentally. As the young folks say, it’s been a lot.

ERASE THE STIGMA

It doesn’t help that despite the valiant efforts of mental health advocates, there’s still such stigma surrounding mental health and illness in the Black community. And stigma keeps people from getting the help they need.

Bebe Moore Campbell herself once said, “People of color, particularly African Americans, feel the stigma more keenly. In a race-conscious society, some don’t want to be perceived as having yet another deficit.”

Fam, this stigma stuff has got to go! Black folks have to stop sweeping mental illness under the proverbial rug and start TALKING ABOUT IT! Stigma keeps too many sick people from getting the help they need. Shame keeps too many sick people from taking life-saving medications because “I don’t want to have to take happy pills for the rest of my life”.

Folks are out here walking around sick, hurt, and untreated because they don’t want to be seen as “crazy”. And untreated mental illness leads to (or is caused by) so many other societal problems like rape, substance abuse, domestic abuse, etc. So that it all becomes one, big cycle of dysfunction where everyone suffers.

(And besides, y’all are out here worried about being seen as crazy are already seen as crazy, so there’s that.)

IT CAN GET BETTER

Listen. 1 in 5 people experience a mental health condition. Actually, that number is probably much higher among Black people, because so few us actually admit to having a problem. But even 1 in 5 is a lot of people. So you are not alone if you struggle. Help is available.

Now having said that, let me also acknowledge the many barriers keeping Black people from getting the help they need. For example, finding culturally competent therapists can be very challenging. Last I checked, only 2% of American psychiatrists are Black. And that matters, not just because Black people make up 13% of the population. I can’t tell you how many ineffective therapy sessions I’ve had with completely clueless non-Black mental health professionals.

Many Black people lack adequate health insurance to see to their mental health needs. And even with insurance, quality mental health care can be cost-prohibitive.

Still. If Black folks know anything, it’s how to make a way out of no way. Even with these very real barriers, we can still get help. For example, many mental health care providers offer virtual services, which can reduce costs and eliminate transportation concerns. Many providers also offer sliding scale fees, payment plans, and even pro bono services, as well.

The bottom line is that everyone has access to Google, and with just a few clicks, can find extensive information on getting mental health care. If you’re having trouble getting started, visit www.nami.org for guidance, and go from there.

We all need to do better and feel better. And that starts and ends with our health, both physical and mental. So, use this Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month as an excuse to prioritize your mental health. Do it for your loved ones, because they want and need you to be ok.

But mainly, do it for yourself, because you deserve to be ok.

#mentalhealth #MinorityMentalHealthAwarenessMonth #MinorityMentalHealthMonth #BlackMentalHealthMatters

 

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