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What is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and How Can You Help?

People who are members of racial and ethnic minority communities face unique barriers to receiving mental health care. In order to bring more awareness to the struggles that minority groups face, Mental Health America developed National Minority Mental Health awareness month to be observed every July. During this month, people should reflect on the inequalities that BIPOC people face regarding mental health. Many of those inequalities stem from the historical and systemic racism that has marginalized and oppressed minorities.

A Brief History of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

The idea of a National Minority Health Awareness Month came from the cofounder of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Bebe Moore Campbell and her friend Linda Wharton-Boyd. They both wanted to work to end the stigma associated with mental health and make mental health care more accessible for all. After the two friends developed the idea and what it would entail, the Department of Mental Health helped by holding a news conference to encourage people to get mental health screenings. Campbell eventually grew ill with cancer and the traction that her efforts previously saw slowed down. After Campbell’s passing, many advocates at NAMI got together to drive Campbell’s efforts. They received the support of representatives Albert Wynn and Diane Watson who declared July National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month officially in 2006.

The Importance of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

National Minority Health Awareness Month is important to observe. Understanding the inequalities that minority groups face is essential for creating a better mental health care system that is inclusive and accessible to all. Educating yourself and others on the struggles that others face will help to reduce the stigma associated with mental health so that more lives can be saved.

What are the Barriers That Minorities Face With Mental Health?

Here are of some of the most prevalent barriers that minorities face when it comes to receiving mental health care:

High costs for insurance and treatment

Mental health is a much larger financial burden to members of marginalized groups. The median income for BIPOC minority groups is much lower than the median income for white people, meaning they have less money to budget for mental health care expenses.

Lack of childcare and paid leave

Minority groups already have lower median incomes, and therefore getting time off of work or paying for childcare to attend mental health care appointments can become a big expense. On top of that many communities that are heavily populated with minority groups have low accessibility to child care. There simply aren’t a lot of options for parents or people who work.

Language

There aren’t enough options for mental health care providers for patients who don’t speak English. Communicating in a different language or using a translator can make it more difficult to share personal information, and it can make it difficult to properly communicate symptoms.

Racial Trauma

Racial trauma causes higher cases of PTSD in people who are BIPOC and those numbers are even higher for those who also identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Racial trauma as described by Mental Health America “refers to the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism, and hate crimes.” Racial trauma comes from either living within a racist system or experiencing acts of racism from others. Systemic racism is racism that is deeply embedded in the laws and rules of society and can take place in cultural institutions. The United States has a long history of oppression and systemic racism against minority groups.

Examples of systemic racism within our own country include an overrepresentation of BIPOC people in prison vs. white people, less homeownership by BIPOC people regardless of income and education level, and a lack of cultural competency in mental health care training across the U.S. Acknowledging the trauma that minority groups have faced in the past and continue to face today is essential to helping build a better society where all are treated with equal respect, dignity, and opportunities.

How You Can Observe National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and Make a Difference

Volunteer your time: Look to local mental health centers in your community and ask what volunteer positions are available.

Donate

If you can’t volunteer, you can make a huge difference by donating to mental health centers in minority-populated communities. Community health centers in minority communities are often underfunded. Donating can help give them more resources to be able to serve more people.

Support the people you know

If you know anyone who may be struggling with a mental illness, let them know you are there to support them. Be a listening ear, encourage them to seek help, and be willing to help them in their search for help. Many people who are struggling find the process of seeking help intimidating. Helping make phone calls and find answers can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Be kind to everyone you meet

You don’t know what is going on in the lives of everyone you meet, or what silent battle people are facing in their own minds. Always practice being kind to others and being empathetic to the struggles that others face. If someone trusts you enough to share personal information, don’t use it against them and encourage them to communicate openly with you.

Educate yourself and others to help end the stigma

Do your own research to better understand the signs of mental illness, and share what you learn with those around you. Always be mindful of how you talk about mental illness to avoid using stereotypes or creating more stigma. Be brave enough to speak up if you hear people speaking negatively about mental illnesses.

If you hear people talking about National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July, hopefully, you will now have a better understanding of why it is important to build awareness and feel inspired to observe the month. In order to change the system as a whole, we have to start accepting responsibility as individuals first. Always strive to better understand and practice empathy towards people who are different from you. This whole month started out with the ideas from just one woman, Bebe Moore Campbell, wanting to make a difference and now her ideas have spread across the entire country. Your actions as an individual just might save someone’s life.

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