July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental Health Social and Racial Justice

Mental health matters for all! Did you know that July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States?

Across the nation (and world), racial and ethnic minority communities contend with unique mental health struggles that urgently require our attention. Due to wide-ranging inequities across housing, transportation, healthcare, and related sectors, BIPOC Americans (a population which includes Indigenous Americans as well as the Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Latinx diasporas) are faced with stressors that may compromise their mental well-being. And because the mind and body operate in synergy (with the mind constantly affecting the body, and vice versa), mental distress can further cause and worsen chronic conditions, just as chronic conditions can cause and worsen mental distress. ☯️

Let’s take a moment to more closely examine why National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is an important call to action for ALL of us:

🔴 The American Psychological Association reports that nearly 1 in 5 Asian Americans suffer from a psychiatric disorder at some point in their lives, but given the significant stigma surrounding mental illness across Asian American communities, this is likely to be an underestimate. Asian Americans are the least likely racial group to seek mental health services, and there are several prevailing narratives in our society, such as the “Model Minority”* archetype, that further discourage individuals and communities from this population from seeking professional support.

🔴 Overall, mental health concerns reportedly just as likely to occur in Black Americans as in White Americans, but due to historical factors (such as chattel slavery, Jim Crow*, and their various outgrowths) and contemporary factors (high levels of underinsurance and uninsurance in Black communities, as well as constant disinvestment in Black neighborhoods), far fewer Black Americans are likely to receive the consistent, compassionate care that they need. The impacts of these factors have swelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when both anti-Black and anti-Asian racism caused spikes in anxiety that the American healthcare system will need to address for generations to come.

🔴 Mental illness is prevalent among the U.S.’s Indigenous population, which comprises 573 federally recognized Native Tribes that speak upwards of 200 languages. Gaps in rural/remote healthcare infrastructure, discrimination across systems and sectors, as well as irreversible damage to ancestral lands (which also fuels climate-related anxiety, a topic for another post! 🌿), all contribute to co-occurring mental illness and other chronic conditions across Indigenous communities. Indigenous Americans also tend to consume alcohol and other drugs at higher rates — and beginning at earlier ages — than their counterparts across all other racial groups. Self-treatment in the absence of accessible and high-quality mental (and physical) healthcare is a pervasive point of concern. With this said, Indigenous Americans are also most likely to seek the support of spiritual and traditional healers separately from or in combination with clinical intervention.

🔴 The youngest and most rapidly growing population in the United States, the Latinx/Hispanic community contains a multitude of national and ethnic identities that — just like the other communities mentioned in this post — each require care that is attuned to their distinct experiences. Within this community, those who have more recently immigrated to the United States are more likely to report mental distress, particularly as it relates to assimilating into the dominant American culture. And, as is the case for many migrant communities, language barriers can exacerbate the racial discrimination that Latinx people might encounter in places of employment, educational and social service institutions, and healthcare systems. These barriers make it all the more difficult to seek and receive quality care when it is most needed.

In every one of the populations mentioned, stigma surrounding mental illness for historical, religious, and related reasons can render generations of community members disempowered in the face of their own mental distress. Breaking down the “taboos” surrounding mental illness at the household, community, and societal levels is a massive effort that requires all hands on deck.

This is where Those Nerdy Girls are asking you to make a commitment to ✨taboo disruption✨ this July and in every month to come. The great news is that we can practice ✨taboo disruption✨ in our daily lives, with the hope that it eventually becomes second nature.

Here’s what it might look like for you:

📢 Examining the conscious and unconscious biases that you have about BIPOC people: Root your conversations in empathy, and consider how your words can cause harm. What might be a passing comment or joke to you could lead to a cascade of negative emotions in the mind of another. To better visualize how and why this happens, I encourage you to research the concept of “Death by A Thousand Cuts” (a very helpful resource is linked below).

📢 Extending compassion to the BIPOC people in your life: This is essential even and especially if you are BIPOC yourself. Because stigma can be very difficult to uproot, asking the BIPOC people you know and love how they are doing, honoring their boundaries, and making your presence known as a person who can support them in whatever capacity you can (❗️and in whatever capacity they actually need❗️) are individual-level gestures that can gradually proliferate and flourish into more equitable communities.

📢 Advocating for policies, systems, and environments that prioritize BIPOC joy, leisure, and culturally-relevant approaches to health: As loved ones, colleagues, neighbors, and friends of BIPOC people, we can take time to observe how policies at every level of governance either enhance or limit opportunities for BIPOC people to enjoy public and private spaces that are safe, well-funded, and stocked with resources that contribute to their sense of belonging and stability. And after making these observations, we can serve our communities (both in-person and from the comfort of our homes) by petitioning for necessary changes that ultimately benefit everyone, persisting in our collective action until basic healthcare needs are met to make room for genuine, communal joy.

📢 🩺 For all the healthcare professionals out there: Taking time to honestly examine how your conscious and unconscious biases may affect your (and your colleagues’) approaches to care is a critical step in ensuring that your BIPOC patients feel equipped to successfully follow up and follow through with your recommendations. Once stigmas are shattered enough for BIPOC people to bring their most vulnerable concerns to you, you can keep those stigmas from reassembling themselves by listening to your patients’ concerns and collaborating with them to develop care plans that are equal parts empowering and accessible. Mobilizing your colleagues to engage in constructive feedback around your medical practices can be difficult, but this gesture of courage and initiative can be profoundly healing — and even life-saving — for the people entrusted to your care.

REMEMBER: No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.

To continue observing this highly important awareness month, stay tuned for a post from our Reproductive Health Squad that highlights racial disparities in postpartum depression.

In solidarity ✊🏽,

Those Nerdy Girls

🔔 To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, please dial 988.

Shoutouts: @thenapministry @IndigenousPeoplesMovement @blackliturgies

Additional Resources:

*What is Jim Crow?

*What is the NEW Jim Crow?

*What is the “Model Minority Archetype/Stereotype”? How does it impact mental health?

The Mental Health Implications of Racialized Schema (Racial Stereotypes like “Model Minority”)

Black and African-American Communities and Mental Health

Addressing the Toll of the “Strong Black Woman”/”Superwoman” Schema on Black Women’s Mental Health

Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities and Mental Health

“Model Minority” Mental Health

Native and Indigenous Communities and Mental Health

Latinx/Hispanic Communities and Mental Health

Microaggressions (Death by a Thousand Cuts)

How Racism Generates (and Exacerbates) Mental Illness

How Mental Health and Chronic Conditions Are Intertwined

📚 HIGHLY Recommended Book:

Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing by Joy DeGruy Leary

Link to Original FB Post