With BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) Mental Health month coming up in July, it is essential to discuss and bring awareness on prioritizing the mental health of BIPOC communities.
In 2008, Mental Health America declared July as BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month. This awareness month came about as a way to break the stigma associated with mental health within BIPOC communities. However, one month of the year is not enough time to make real change – it needs to be addressed year-round, and much work to be done to improve mental health within BIPOC communities.
What Is the Definition of Mental Health?
Mental health is a complex notion and cannot be simply defined. These definitions are only scratching the surface regarding defining mental health and its associated stigmas, resources, and challenges to treatment, which disproportionately affect BIPOC at higher rates than their white counterparts.
According to Medical News Today, mental health is an umbrella term for cognitive, emotional, and behavioral wellbeing. The National Alliance on Mental Health defines mental illness as a condition that impacts a person’s mood, thinking, or feeling and can affect their ability to function every day.
How Does Mental Health Impact BIPOC?
Since BIPOC communities face continual systemic oppression, especially with recent challenges like COVID-19, experts are calling for more health supports.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted BIPOC communities in North America. Racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare can be deadly. They are known for contributing to the higher morbidity and mortality among people of color, in contrast to white North Americans. These disparities are also putting BIPOC communities at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 in the first place.
Also, there has been generational trauma being brought to the surface, like the recent discovery of the remains of 215 children found buried at a former B.C. residential school.
These events, along with a rise in anti-Asian and anti-Black hate crimes, contribute to adverse mental health outcomes for BIPOC communities.
What Do Experts Have to See Regarding the Mental Health of BIPOC?
A couple of experts in Waterloo have come out with some vital information regarding the mental health of BIPOC communities. For instance, the Founder and Executive Director of the Healing Seven Generations, Donna Dubie, believes that there is a long road ahead. The Healing of Seven Generations is an organization in the Waterloo Region for the past 20 years that has been a space where everyone can grieve and heal. They also have been holding outdoor, physically distanced ceremonial gatherings for individuals. They have links to mental health support online for BIPOC people who need it.
Dubie asserts that culturally sensitive support is crucial, and those cultural teachings that utilize the elements of fire, water, air, and earth are essential for the grieving process.
Teresa Smith, a registered psychotherapist, specializing in BIPOC community care, says that trauma requires unique support for healing. Also, the healing process is much different for people in the BIPOC community.
To raise mental health awareness within marginalized communities, we must acknowledge the mental health issues that they experience. Licensed psychotherapist, Nicole Lewis who runs Legacy Wellness Services in Gulfport, Miss., says that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common mental illness that affects BIPOC. These traumatic events can result from dangerous events, experiences of discrimination (like violence, threats, shaming, microaggressions, and more), or witnessing the bigotry and physical harm of BIPOC.
Ongoing exposure to these types of events is what makes BIPOC vulnerable to PTSD. Along with trauma, BIPOC are dealing with alarming rates of anxiety and depression.
Why Does BIPOC Face Various Barriers When Seeking Mental Health Care?
According to research, 1 in 5 adults in the United States and Canada experience some form of mental illness every year. Only half of those individuals are receiving adequate care. When it comes to accessing care, there are barriers to accessibility for many people, especially for BIPOC.
BIPOC faces these barriers for a variety of reasons. These barriers can include discrimination and biases from mental health care providers, disparities in access to care and resources, mental health stigma within the community, and cultural differences in understanding mental health. There are also logistical barriers such as transportation challenges or being unable to take time off work.
Another common barrier to accessing mental health services is their affordability. While some health insurance plans may cover mental health services, it is generally unavailable to anyone working an entry-level, part-time or contract job. A therapy session can be costly and is not always financially possible for marginalized communities.
Mental health services can also include rehabilitation programs and psychiatric medication, which contributes to even higher costs.
How Can We Improve Mental Health Care for BIPOC?
BIPOC faces unique challenges and situations that require more resources. Here are some ways in which we can improve mental health care for these individuals and communities.
Providing Access to Culturally Competent Mental Health Care
Mental health professionals need the proper knowledge to treat more marginalized groups of people. They need to understand the context for the clients and their culture to provide better quality care.
They also need to unlearn any biases they have to prevent discrimination against their clients.
Raising More Awareness
Awareness is essential for addressing mental health. Many BIPOC is rightfully distrustful of the systems that oppress them, so community outreach can help face the disparities in the mental health field.
Talking about mental health for BIPOC can also reduce stigma.
Having a Better Understanding of the Mental Health System
Since the mental health system can be so complex to navigate, many people may not be aware of the mental health care that is available to them.
Healthcare professionals and policymakers must take on more action in curbing disparities. They must make it a priority to provide easier mental health access to BIPOC.
It’s essential for mental health providers and people who hold the white privilege to acknowledge and educate ourselves about the issues that these vulnerable populations face. That way, we can ensure that BIPOC communities have access to the best mental health care possible.