Minority Mental Health Isn't a Minor Issue

JUL. 01, 2015

By Natalia Rawls

African Americans at the NAMI National Convention

Before I started as an intern at NAMI, I had never heard of Bebe Moore Campbell or even National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (NMMHAM). When I first heard about the month, I was puzzled and filled with questions. In particular, I wondered: Why is there a need for a minority mental health awareness month, since mental health conditions affect your brain and not your skin color?

I was admittedly reluctant to voice my confusion because I did not want to appear ignorant or offensive.

Luckily, my supervisor was very receptive and she wasn’t offended by my questions at all. Living with a mental health condition is challenging for everyone, regardless of their background. But in addition to brain chemistry, culture, race and ethnicity influence mental health rates, attitudes and treatment.

I consider myself to be a well-informed African American woman, and even I wasn’t aware of the many barriers that exist in communities similar to mine that make it more challenging to address and treat mental health conditions.

I found out that people in diverse communities are less likely to use mental health services. When they do, they often receive poorer quality of care, making their experiences even more alarming.

After that conversation, I decided to do my own research on mental health in diverse communities. Some of the reasons I found for people not using mental health services and getting worse care included: 

  • Higher levels of stigma.
  • Less access to treatment.
  • Lack of mental health literacy and information.
  • A culturally insensitive health care system.
  • Bias and discrimination in treatment settings.
  • Lack of access to health insurance.

As a result, I realized that this issue affects me more than I ever imagined. I decided to come up with a list of why National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month matters to me:

  1. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask questions about mental health and awareness in diverse communities.
  2. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge and attempt to change the reality that multicultural communities face mental health disparities.
  3. It reminds those who are affected by a mental health condition that they are not alone and that there is hope.
  4. It creates a safe space to share our stories and eliminate stigma.

Having learned more about multicultural mental health, I now feel capable of starting—and continuing—the conversation surrounding it. For those of you (like me a few weeks ago) with questions about why NMMHAM matters or even exists, I encourage you to learn more and join the conversation.

Hope starts with me. Hope starts with you. Hope starts with us.

Natalia Rawls is an intern in NAMI's Multicultural Action Center.


AUG, 04, 2015 12:30:44 PM
Not only do I have a young adult son that is struggling with a mental illness and self-medicating, but I have a nephew who is in a similar boat. The stigma is real in our community, but that same stigma also keeps our young people especially secretive about their illnesses. My son has ALWAYS tried to hide what he really can't hide from the public. How can families begin to try to get help for their young adult family members when they constantly try to "fit-in" and act "normal" so nobody can tell? Half the struggle is trying to get someone that has tried to hide their illness for years, to be open and honest so that they can try to lead more productive lives. My husband and I seem to be running out of ideas. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

AUG, 01, 2015 07:56:13 AM
Drycka King
Thank you for sharing. It should change the scope of practice for those clinicians who are serving in this population. Lives are affected and being a competent and knowledgeable clinician about diversity could make the difference in stability and instability.

JUL, 31, 2015 01:48:08 PM
Doris Cox-Meshack
My grown son has mental health disease, and I have been trying to get services for him for over 15 years.

JUL, 31, 2015 03:35:32 AM
I wish someone would remove Hugh's comment. It is not related to the topic and it comes across like it was written by someone who is disturbed. That would really send a negative message to readers, especially since this organization advocates for those who are affected by mental illness. On a positive note, I was an intern in the education department at headquarters in 2013 and I really learned a lot.

JUL, 30, 2015 05:42:20 PM
Nathaniel j. Shaw
From where I stand there is noted today the levels of problems in our Black lives mentally. Is it true how the mind is the center/computer of our 'internet'? The breakdown I recall in my own past and the fight to fill the void drained from all the years of "yesterday" allow me to feel today the intense challenge so many of us have. And without a strong mental Central Processing Unit disaster can lead us to the many places I've seen and experienced. I don't hold back in saying how this kind of institutionalizing is so very detrimental - Prison, low-grade schooling, low-grade health care in hospitals and clinics - and so much more. More and more it seems I see that "I give up" flag with its look walking at a snails pace among us everyday I ride a bus or even walk to the mini market in my own neighbor. Outreaching! Will we get to the stages needed to at least see a better change someday - someday soon?

JUL, 30, 2015 03:57:46 PM
From both a professional and personal standpoint, what's interesting to note is how this awareness could potentially save a life. Although the mental health community is indeed doing what it can to change the perception of the service to constituents of black/African American communities, it may still be too little to late for someone new to its benefits. Typically, trust, rapport, or any of the other characteristics of an effective counselor are not established in the client's mind during the first session. What comes to mind are the events children in the inner cities face, gang membership, alcohol and drugs, peer pressure, sex/sexual assaults, abuse and neglect. The availability of mental health facilities has the propensity to create an outlet for that child/young adult, as well as the parent/guardian. This leads me to think about parenting classes, communication skills and psychoe-ducational information, and the way it speaks to reducing the generation gap, allowing the child/children to know their parents are them for them but first they have to speak the same language. I could go on and on about how beneficial knowledge and existence of Mental Health services would be in "minority" areas, I just wish there was some way for me to get that information out there to them.

JUL, 30, 2015 11:35:55 AM
Thank you for sharing. It is a great struggle that our loved ones and us as the families combat every day.

JUL, 30, 2015 08:56:12 AM
Chelsea Randall
I was recently diagnosed by my psychiatrist with bipolar disorder. I am a 32 year old women with a husband and 3 children. I have struggled with myself, and my emotions since I was a very young girl. Never knowing what was wrong with me but always knowing something was not right with me. I sought help for myself for the first time when I was 25. I just couldn't deal anymore. I have seen several doctors along with several medications, nothing helped for any length of time. In this time I began to self medicate, and am now dealing with my drug addiction as well. Since being diagnosed with the proper medications things seem to be looking up somewhat for me. Point is, I know it is very difficult to find the right help, the right doctors, the right people to help me on this journey. The world needs more people and organizations to help people with mental illness. Nami has helped me and I'm thankful for that!

JUL, 09, 2015 11:31:53 AM
This testimony is all about Dr osun okpobo, I was diagnosed of HIV, my wife traveled to a Business Meeting and I was alone, I had a one night stand with a hooker and was later diagnosed of HIV, i cant tell how i contacted this disease but my instinct tells me its from the hooker  because later on after 8 months, I started feeling some symptoms, I went for check-up and the doctor confirmed It positive, It weighed me down that i wished I was faithful to my Darling Wife I wouldn't have had the Virus, I know fully well that my Wife will also be diagnosed with the virus so i didn't tell anyone about it until I came across a testimony about Dr. osun okpobo and then I contacted him via His Website and he started the remedies for my health and my wife's too. though it wasn't easy explaining the situation to my wife as Dr osun okpobo ordered but I thank God everything is fine for my wife and i as we were cured by Dr. osun okpobo we went for check-up and we were tested NEGATIVE;  i know without God being involved this healing wouldn't have been a success. Dr osun always reminds me that he can only do his best and let God do the rest. Now i believe him when he said no one has ever been in contact with him and leave uncured or unsatisfied. I promised to promote his Good work by making him known as much as I can and in my little way too.. If you're troubled about any form of sickness you could contact him via okpobomirror@gmail.com, you can also contact him on his mobile number, +23407088779747.... Skype: drmirror66

JUL, 08, 2015 08:46:44 AM
Bernessa Rawls-Baker
Not only is it intriguing to know the statistics of how minorities are afflicted by mental health issues, it is even more alarming to know the rate at which younger children are being diagnosed with certain mental disorders. I would love to see how your research evolves and hopefully includes some insight on the "causes" of such conditions in our youth. How can we as parents and educators become more aware, educated, and able to accomodate those individuals as well?

JUL, 02, 2015 01:05:01 AM
Melinda Segal
Thank you for sharing your experience in this most important article.

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