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Better health through better understanding - Bringing awareness to mental health disparities
Author: Zoey Dudley - Sophomore at Hawken School
May may be Mental Health Awareness Month, but July is another important month in the field of mental health - National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which address the very real health disparities that exist for minority communities.
First, a little bit of history.
Congress declared each July National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month [MMHAM] in 2008. The idea was originated by Bebe Moore Campbell, an American author, journalist and teacher, who was also a mental health advocate for underrepresented communities. The idea was to bring public awareness to mental health specifically for minorities. For the past 15 years, July has been a month to reflect and acknowledge the mental health disparities that minority communities face in order to reduce them.
By bringing awareness to minority mental health concerns, we improve mental health equity for everyone. According to the CDC, “Mental health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their highest level of mental health and emotional well-being.”
Unfortunately, in racial/ethnic minority groups, people are less likely to receive mental health care. While many circumstances can cause inequalities in getting help, minorities have unique barriers such as stigma, lack of cultural understanding in treatment, low access to providers, and more. These unique struggles or barriers have an impact on whether someone gets quality mental health treatment.
A major health disparity is the stigma carried by mental illness. Stigma can prevent someone from getting mental health treatment and cause misinformation - but in minority communities, there is an additional layer. Bebe Moore Campbell explains:
“people of color really don't want to say it [that they are not in control of their own mind] because we already feel stigmatized by virtue of skin color or eye shape or accent and we don't want any more reasons for anyone to say, 'You're not good enough’.”
Minorites may already feel down and do not want to be labeled as “crazy,” or any other negative label that pertains to mental illnesses. Stigma can be internalized by an individual or a community, which makes it hard for people to want or accept help. Overall, stigma can leave people feeling shame and rejection… on top of their mental health issues.
Another barrier is that people of color may not feel understood during treatment because providers may not understand a patient’s needs, which could be different from their own. This lack of understanding can be because of a lack of diversity or cultural training in providers. If someone doesn’t feel heard, it’s kind of like talking to a brick wall and makes someone not even want to participate in treatment.
Also, social, racial, and economic circumstances can also have a large effect on a person's wellbeing. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, “studies suggest that racial minority groups and sexual minority groups show higher levels of anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders.” Not to mention, opportunity access (education, housing, health care) affect comminutes around the U.S. differently.
It is important to talk about these struggles because we can hope to destigmatize and prevent them from happening. It is exactly why we celebrate minority mental health awareness month. With mental illness occurring in 1 of every 5 U.S. adults (according to the CDC), we need to act now to help others. A great way that can happen is by talking about it.
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