July is BIPOC Mental Health Month!

Article by: McKenna Hereford, PhD

Formerly known as National Minority Mental Health Month, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental Health Month is designated to bring awareness and action to mental health concerns experienced in Black and Brown communities. This year’s theme is Beyond The Numbers, meaning we should consider the whole person beyond the statistics quickly relayed on the internet. Let’s start with the basics!

Why is there a designated month?

People belonging to BIPOC communities collectively experience systemic barriers that affect mental health. Additionally, within the communities, there are unique mental health considerations. Historically, BIPOC communities have been neglected in research and mental health therapy; these spaces and information have not been catered to these communities and their needs. Additionally, the mental health field has engaged in harm toward all of these communities in different ways. Importantly, all BIPOC communities also have their own strengths and cultures that should be celebrated! Within indigenous communities, for example, there are a wide variety of cultural traditions that are unfortunately often lumped together as one group, when two tribes might have very different cultural norms.

When considering some community mental health concerns, here are some brief examples:

  • Indigenous people report serious distress over 2.5x higher than the general population.
  • More than 1 in 5 Black people live below poverty lines in the US which significantly contributes to mental health distress.
  • Mental health issues have been on the rise for Latine/x populations.
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) individuals are the least likely to receive care for mental health concerns.

All of these concerns and many more are highlighted during BIPOC Mental Health Month, and it’s important to consider complexity. True to the theme of this year, we should be mindful that many factors contribute to increased mental health concerns including stigma, understandable cultural mistrust toward mental health providers, lack of access to care, discrimination, lack of socioeconomic resources, and many more. Additionally, many mental health providers have not received adequate training in culturally responsive care with these populations beyond basic statistics which can unintentionally lead to stereotyping. A purpose of dedicating this month is to also bring awareness to mental health providers directly to address deficits in training, unlearn biases, and target systemic barriers to care.

Another important consideration is intersectionality, or the unique constellation of identities we all have. While the month is dedicated to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, people hold many identities! A Black trans woman will likely have different experiences than a Black cisgender woman. Similarly, a man from the AAPI community who is also disabled will also have experiences unique to him. To consider the whole person means considering intersections and relationships among all identities and not reducing people to only one identity. Who is the person sitting in front of you? What are their unique experiences, struggles, and strengths?

Speaking of strengths, BIPOC communities have many strengths unique to them as well that should be considered. If we focus only on barriers, we miss rich cultural experiences that could be relevant to help assist in improving quality of life! Some examples include:

  • Community care (peer support, doulas, etc.) can provide powerful buffers against distress.
  • Spirituality/religious beliefs can provide a strong sense of meaning and resilience. 
  • Strong cultural identity and connection to practices can be a protective factor against mental health concerns. 
  • Close family connections, similarly to connections to community, can strengthen buffers against mental illness.

Often, when BIPOC experiences are reported, usually the report focuses on barriers to issues faced. This is incredibly important to raise awareness and engage in an action plan to start addressing direct and systemic barriers. However, if we focus only on struggles or challenges, we are again reducing a person to their barriers. We miss the whole person, which includes culture and resilience! In fact, many people the Black community have recently pushed for more focus on Black joy, in addition to persistent systemic barriers and discrimination.

What should we do now?

There are many ways to help and honor BIPOC Mental Health Month! You can share articles or information with friends or on social media. You can consider your role and interactions with BIPOC communities. If you’re a healthcare provider, you might take a continuing education course to learn updates on research and culturally responsive care. If you’re a friend, you can offer support and look at potential state laws that could affect your friends in the BIPOC community directly. Maybe you’re a teacher and could be mindful about interactions with your students and educating yourself/students about various cultural practices in a nuanced and appreciative way. Change and support can occur on so many levels, and you can focus on your own strengths! Consider your biases that might appear in everyday conversations. What policies are in place at your job or laws in your state that might cause harm or prevent harm to BIPOC communities? Are there organizations that could use financial assistance you can support directly? Do you have connections to share BIPOC mental health information with that could help increase access to care directly or indirectly? These are just a few examples of how anyone can make a difference! 

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