Each July, the month is dedicated to bringing awareness to National Minority Mental Health. The goal is to focus on the unique experiences and struggles that are lived by racial and ethnic minority groups specifically surrounding mental health. We’ll explore how to how to be a mental health ally and offer some support tools!
Mental health matters
The stigma around talking about mental health has persisted for far too long. Further, minority mental health stigma runs just as deep. Mental health has no ability to discriminate against race, religion, or identity. Any individual can be impacted by mental health challenges at any stage of life. Americans in the millions are affected by mental health conditions each year. Unfortunately, some communities, such as BIPOC peoples, face more systemic barriers than others, leaving them dangerously vulnerable and lacking adequate mental health care. Marginalized communities can and do carry trauma through generations. These concerns are unique and is is critical to treat them as such. In order for mental health to be addressed appropriately, caregivers must be equipped to approach the needs of BIPOC peoples and provide curated minority mental health practices.
As I said above, mental health matters. Additionally, minority mental health matters. Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, teacher and journalist. She authored three New York Times bestsellers, Brothers and Sisters, Singing in the Comeback Choir, and What You Owe Me. She penned many other notable works of fiction, non- fiction, essays and articles. Her powerful voice spotlighted events such as the 1955 murder of Emmett Till and the beating of Rodney King. Campbell’s interest in mental health sparked a revolution of focus on minority mental health awareness. Beginning with her first children’s book, Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, she dove headfirst into bringing the experience of black mental health to the forefront of American society.
Campbell’s contributions to BIPOC mental health are certainly notable. In fact, she and her colleague, Linda Wharton- Boyd were responsible for establishing Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2005. Minority communities were encouraged to get mental health check ups, book signings were held, and Campbell and Wharton- Boyd went on a speaking tour to community centers and churches. They created a National Minority Mental Health Taskforce comprised of healthcare workers, friends and other allies. Unfortunately, Campbell’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent passing stalled their collaborative efforts for a period of time but, it was quickly re-established. The flame continues to burn bright.
Erasing the stigma
One of the most frustrating and damaging ideas around mental health is the pervasiveness of silence. It is deeply discouraging to anyone struggling with mental health to feel they have no voice or would be unheard if they did speak up, asking for help. Many experiencing mental health conditions or watching a loved one struggle may feel shame, fear and loneliness. After the birth of my second child, I sought care for my concerns over my own mental health. Initially, I felt as if I must keep that to myself, that it was something to be embarrassed about. Only when I started to talk about it, to connect with other mothers and other women, did I realize how widespread mental health concerns truly were.
Taking the focus to the Black community, the silence on mental health is even more deafening. Many minority communities lack access to essential mental health care, further alienating individuals from gathering the tools to support their own health and that of their family and loved ones. According to Mental Health America, data from the Census Bureau and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, I discovered some stark statistics regarding the Black community and minority mental health awareness.
For example, let’s start with this- 13.5% of the American population identify as Black or African American. Of that percentage, over 16% reported being diagnosed with a mental illness in the past year, which is approximately over 7 million individuals. That number is greater than the total combined population of Houston, Chicago and Philadelphia. That’s right. COMBINED. Further details of demographics and societal issues are offered here.
Taking steps for mental health awareness
In order to begin erasing the stigma around mental health and minority mental health, we must do the work. But, what might that look like, you might ask?
- Research– First and foremost, I am a librarian. Research and access to reputable resources/ information is the essence of my being. Also- books. Stigma exists because of ignorance. Some of the best resources for information on mental health are: Mental Health America, Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, and National Alliance on Mental Illness. These sources offer basic essential information and help to eliminate incorrectly formed notions.
- Use your voice– Silence is deafening, so the saying goes. Speaking up is not a sign of weakness. In fact, silence perpetrates stigma and ignorance. Mental illness is not a definition of a person, nor is it a limiting factor to living a full and healthy life. Be open, share your truth with those who care. Share it with those who support you. Seek professional support and the support of allies. Be an ally for mental health.
- Growth mindset– Remember to stay open. Open to learning, open to sharing, open to change. For minority communities in particular, erasing the stigma of mental health is vital to gaining access to relevant care and support. Black celebrities like Janet Jackson and Taraji P. Hensen have shared their experiences with minority mental health. Celebrities have an undeniable platform to reach people on a large scale. A 2020 article from Essence showcases some powerful Black celebrity voices opening up about mental health. When we can see faces we recognize talking about something, it makes it easier to connect and normalizes what was once kept behind closed doors.
- Kindness matters– This is a phrase we hear and see a lot these days. It does matter. It matters a lot. Simply extending an ear and a hand to someone in need may be all that person needs. Listen. Believe. Trust. People live with mental illness. They live with it in their families and watch their loved ones struggle through mental health crises and episodes. It can be terrifying to experience. Choose your words carefully when someone shares with your their mental health concerns. If you aren’t sure what to say, just listen. Be there.
In addition to the guidelines listed above, exploring some SEL (Social Emotional Learning) activities can be a positive way to engage your family in supporting mental health awareness. While many of these are geared towards children, they are valuable tools in opening up that area of ourselves to being kind allies to all.
- Consider making goals– set them and follow through with them. There is plenty of research to support the positive influence that goal setting has on mental health.
- Stress ball craft– Making a stress ball is a fun activity for kids and adults. The supplies required are minimal and it is something that everyone in the family can enjoy!
- Friendship blooms- Using this Friendship Flower template, explore the characteristics that make a good friend. This is a positive activity to help remember why relationships matter and how valuable they are to our personal growth.
Be the change
This month, reflect on Minority Mental Health. Consider why it matters and how valuable it is to not stay silent. Be open, be an ally. Mental health is real and it matters. You matter! Please share with us in the comments your thoughts and experiences. How are you an ally for mental health? Do you have any tips and resources to share? We would love to hear from you. Happy weekend!
Courtney is an MTT tutor, academic coach, and blog contributor for MTTES. If you check out our FB and Instagram pages, you might see her giving a storytime with her son Jack through the company’s Facebook Live service. Courtney’s love of the English language, learning, and creative writing inspired her to contribute relevant content to teachers, tutors, parents, and homeschoolers seeking support across an array of trending topics. She and her teacher husband have two small children and reside in Baltimore, MD with their dog Lottie May.