Black History Month: Mental Health Awareness
February is known as Black History Month, where we celebrate the long journey of hardships, successes and rich cultural heritage of this wonderful community. This year, it is important to emphasize spreading awareness of mental health and overall wellness of the black community as well as the majority of people of color. Although mental health difficulties affects us all, people of color from the Black, Asian, Latinx, Arab and Indigenous communities have higher rates of these difficulties and face larger disparities in obtaining appropriate informed help. Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) often experience more direct and indirect traumatic stressors such as being victims of physical/verbal attacks, being increasingly policed, discrimination/ racial profiling, bullying for embracing cultural practice, lack of acceptance, stereotyping and exposure to others in the community harmed. They are also subjected to transmitted stressors such as generational trauma – oppressive and traumatic events that is carried on from one generation to another and internalized (e.g. slavery, famine).
With entering our third year of the COVID pandemic, BIPOC have also faced stressors with unemployment, health difficulties and differences with covid that are not always accounted for, lost loved ones, loss of livelihoods and sociability, being far from family and insecurities about the future causing depression, anxiety and substance abuse rates to increase.
They are less likely to seek help due to mental health barriers such as:
- Language barriers and cultural/belief differences- affect the relationship between therapist and client or lack of seeking out services due to fear of not being understood.
- Socioeconomic barriers – poverty, unemployment, legal/immigration statuses, racial bias, discrimination, lack of availability of therapists, distance/transportation difficulties, lack of knowledge of services, lack of access, institutional/systemic discrimination etc. All create an additional distance from seeking care.
- Fear and societal stigma – mental health is perceived and viewed differently in each culture, race or ethnic group causing certain negative beliefs of seeking treatment. Sometimes, seeking support is viewed as a weakness or as a serious problem that may be subject to further discrimination by the community. It is also linked to family status and image in certain communities and may be seen as a sign of disrespect to speak to a stranger rather than a community member that is known. For much of the black community, reliance on religion or family elders to help cope with mental illness is a part of the culture and is linked historical survival coping practices. But, these among other views also serve as a barrier in receiving professional informed health care, alongside spiritual care.
- Therapist/Provider Bias – Sometimes, the lack of cultural sensitivity, misdiagnosis or inadequate/incompetent treatment are experiences for various BIPOC. This can make individuals feel neglected, dismissed, reinforcing stigma’s and ultimately feeling more alone. Due to being unaware and unable to account for racial/cultural/spiritual differences and experiences in the therapeutic space leads these individuals to be mistrustful and unwilling to seek out care again. All of these experiences may further exacerbate existing issues building multiple racial and cultural traumatic experiences along the way.
In bringing our awareness to these issues, each one of us can move forward and take steps to become an ally to individuals in the black community or any indigenous person of color, experiencing hardship or mental health struggle.
We can bring awareness to the use of stigmatizing language and behavior that is harmful and insensitive, educate our loved ones/colleagues/friends about the unique challenges faced by these communities and become more aware of our own beliefs/attitudes and behaviors to reduce unconscious biases. As health care professionals, we must be appropriately educated on culturally informed and sensitive care to ensure we are providing holistic care to anyone we may see.
Our world is big and diverse, we interact with so many people each day from a variety of different walks from life, the more we are able to understand, accept and support differences that make us unique, the more empathy and compassion we have to others facing mental health struggles and help them cope with care. We are all citizens of the world, our increased awareness helps break down the stigma barrier and help others get help they need, speak their truth, be accepted and heal generational pain.
If you are trying to seek out professional care, please do not hesitate to contact us at Roots Wellness Center, where we provide a safe, understanding, culturally sensitive environment for all.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King Jr.