Acknowledging the Importance of Minority Mental Health Month

By Kayla Sharpe | Jul. 15, 2016

Kayla Sharpe, left, and Valerie Denis at AKA International Convention Boulé – July 12, 2016

July is Minority Mental Health Month and I know what some of you may be thinking: Doesn’t the distinction of minority mental health further divide and isolate minority communities? Doesn’t the oversaturation of “diversity” cheapen the term and make it no more than an overused buzzword? Doesn’t an entire month dedicated to minority mental health take focus away from a nationwide mental health crisis?

When considering these questions, it’s crucial to remember that mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of a person’s race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, mental illness affects the lives of 1 in 5 adults.  But while mental health conditions are evenly spread across individuals of different races, resources that identify and treat mental health conditions are often not. For example: Due to unmet needs and general lack of knowledge about mental illness, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience severe forms of mental health conditions including major depression, suicide and posttraumatic stress disorder.

These realities are what make National Minority Mental Health Month so important. This month allows us to acknowledge and begin to alleviate the inequalities that exist in our national mental health care system. Here are three areas to consider when understanding what sets mental health in African American communities in particular apart:

Identity

I’d be lying if I said I’ve never proudly declared to be a “strong, independent black woman,” but even though I use this phrase jokingly, I understand that it holds a troubling reality for many African American women. The idea that black women must always be strong and self-sufficient deters us from seeking or accepting mental health treatment if we really need it. In fact, the California Black Women’s Health Project found (in 2003) that only 7% of black women with symptoms of mental illness seek treatment. Seeing mental illness as simply “the blues” or a few “bad days” only further isolates individuals who are in need of help and reinforces the stigma that seeking help is a sign of defeat.

Dialogue

Being able to discuss how you’re feeling in a supportive and stigma free environment is vital for mental wellbeing. While African American communities are commonly open and safe spaces, discussing mental health issues can often be challenging, especially when it comes to using correct terminology about specific symptoms of mental illnesses. Using terms like “crazy” fall short of identifying serious mental illnesses and deter individuals from speaking out. While family and spiritual communities are vital sources of emotional support in African American life, they are most effective when paired with essential professional medical or therapeutic treatment.

Treatment

The lack of dialogue surrounding mental health issues in minority communities can often deter individuals from seeking treatment, as mentioned above. Despite the fact that mental illness affects African American and Caucasian adults at near equal rates, African Americans utilize mental health services at only half the rate of Caucasians and 1/3 the amount of Asian Americans. Another obstacle, unfortunately, is provider bias—a culturally insensitive healthcare system often makes it difficult to find a suitable mental health provider.

Now, here are some ways that African Americans can advocate for mental health awareness in their communities:

Learn More About Mental Illnesses

Educate yourself about different mental illnesses, their warning signs and treatment options. Lack of information and misinformation about mental illness can lead to distrust of mental health resources. Maintaining a working knowledge about mental illnesses is not only personally beneficial, but allows you to be more understanding and supportive of a loved one living with a mental illness.

Encourage Stigma Free Conversations

NAMI’s Stigmafree Pledge encourages you to use what you’ve learned in order to educate others. Do your part to change how you talk about mental health in your family, social and spiritual communities. Using language that acknowledges and respects a person’s condition encourages them to seek treatment and decreases the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Find Mental Health Care That Works For You

When searching for a mental health provider, it’s important to seek out a culturally competent provider. This means that your provider actively works to understand your culture and beliefs and how those might influence your health. When seeking out providers, ask questions like: “Have you ever treated a person from my cultural background before?” and “Would you include aspects of my cultural identity into my care?”

Lend Your Voice

Consider contributing to NAMI’s personal story blogs. You Are Not Alone encourages individuals to submit their own experiences with mental illness and OK2TALK encourages teens and young adults to find encouragement in their peers. By sharing your perspective as a member of the African American community, you may encourage others who identify with your story.

Support your local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated

In 2015, NAMI announced its partnership with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s oldest sorority founded by African American women. Through Alpha Kappa Alpha’s international program, Launching New Dimensions of Service, over 283,000 college-trained women are working to raise awareness about mental health in minority communities across the nation. Locate a chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha in your area and find out how you can support their local programs.

Comments
Kelly Frizen, Voice & Vision, Inc. and CFST Coordinator, Chester County, PA
I found this article informative and excellent for creating dialogue. I'll be sharing with an Advisory Group we have begun in Chester County, PA on the topic. Thank you! .
8/8/2016 1:05:19 PM

jane otte
Good article. Can you refer me to any articles that give stats on any of the areas of discrimination- especially what discrimination occurs in the inpatient mental health setting? Thanks,
8/3/2016 5:58:22 PM

Nagendra
I am Asian American I have schizophrenia stigma hurts just not me but everyone around so row row row your boat 😊
8/3/2016 2:03:49 PM

Peter Nelson
I sympathize with the lack of competent minority-sensitive pdocs. Being a white male bipolar I don't suffer the lack of care that black men and women do and I think the stigma is less in my community.
7/30/2016 5:06:49 PM

Phyllis Devonish
How can I get that shirt??
7/29/2016 1:41:15 PM

James Lauderdale, Jr.
An excellent and timely post!
7/29/2016 12:03:22 PM

Ayesha Karim
I found this article informative. I am African American and I have Schizophrenia. I am in my mid-30s. I really am excited about Minority Mental Health Month. I have an Asian friend. Mental health care gets my vote.
7/28/2016 11:22:01 PM

Judith Banks
This article is very true.
7/28/2016 4:55:19 PM

Joseph Maxwell III
I just want to express my gratitude for NAMI for taking extra steps to reach out to the African American community. Being of this race myself, I can assure you the need in this area is great as I believe it is for all races. But in the AA communities, there are additional hurdles to climb. I have a brother with major learning disabilities and I could not get my father to acknowledge this, nor my brother's doctors. What I saw was a man who cared more for his pride over the care of his son. My brother is the one who has had to pay the price for my Father's decision(s), or the lack there of. Also, there is the hurdle of feeling that all white/Caucasian people are racist which creates a very difficult working environment for the many great Caucasion mental health workers out here. In most cases this is an assumption based on passed experiences or the experiences of other family members more so than fact. This can also be a roadblock that many AA's set in their own path further hindering them from receiving the help they so desperately need. The last objective is the lack of education and ignorance to the factual side of things and less so to the emotional side. Many times what AA's and all other nationalities feel, assume, or presume don't always align with the facts. But it is especially true in the AA community, again stemming from the aboved reasons mentioned and many others, too countless to mention here. I agree that it is time for the walls to come down for all people, because man was created by God and whether we like it or not, we are all connected. So it is to the benefit of all to work together to fight this illness regardless of race, color, or creed and educational background. All should learn not to bite the hand that holds the solution to the puzzle that perplexes them.
7/28/2016 3:36:27 PM

Linda B Lindsey
Why? pray-tell is there a separate month for acknowledging "minority mental health?" I'm an 20 year AF Veteran who just happens to be African American diagnosed with PTSD. Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to your response.
7/28/2016 1:44:32 PM

Rev Tama Bell
Dear NAMI Please Use THIS comment
Suffice it to say that Mental Health, like Medical Health is not immune to Racism and Discrimination within the system and that persons who are of color are much more prone to receive less services/inadequate services. I have also found that some practitioners are less likely to look for illness when they operate from this worldview, and due to racist or prejudicial views, are much more apt to call a person with mental illness, a 'criminal' or say that said patient/client is illustrating 'malingering behavior'. It is my hope NAMI begins a campaign to increase awareness about this sad situation.
7/28/2016 1:31:47 PM

Rev Tama Bell
Suffice it to say that Mental Health, like Medical Health is also not immune to Racism and Discrimination within the system and that persons who are of color are much more prone to receive less services, inadequate services. I have also found that some practitioners are less likely to look for illness in some cases, and when it is due to racist or prejudicial views, are much more apt to call a person with mental illness, a 'criminal' or illustrating malingering behavior. It is my hope NAMI begins a campaign to increase awareness about this sad situation.
7/28/2016 1:27:26 PM

JAMES JEROME BELL
IT HAS BEEN MY EXPERIENCE THAT THE MORE INVOLVED YOU ARE PERSONALLY IN YOUR CARE THE BETTER YOUR SERVICES OVERALL WILL BE. WE MUST UNMASK THE VEIL OF CONTEMPT AND SHAME THAT MIRES THE MINORITY COMMUNITY IN AN ABYSS OF DESPAIR. THE VERY FOUNDATION OF A BETTER TOMORROW STARTS WITH AN HONEST REALITY CHECK, THAT WE ARE NOT ALONE NOR WEAK BECAUSE OF THE AFFLICTION THAT WE FACE.PLEASE LOVE YOUR FAMILY, FRIENDS, ETC. AND SEEK TO UNDERSTAND , FOR IT IS IN THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE ILLNESS THAT COMPASSION RESONATES!
7/28/2016 12:42:04 PM

Lucila Vargas
I appreciate your story, even though it's about the struggle of Black women and I'm Latina, it sounds very familiar to me. I was surprised, however, not to see any mention of Latinos. I understand you cannot mention every minority group, but Latinos are the largest minority in the country and have very high rates of mental disorders and extremely low access to mental health services. In particular, Latina adolescents girls have the highest rate of suicidality among all U.S. teens.
7/28/2016 10:39:03 AM

Kelly Smith
Cut out this division now. We're like three musketeers. One for all and all for one. Otherwise it's just reverse discrimination!
7/27/2016 9:47:01 PM

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