If not, you’re not alone. Sadly this month is often overlooked by the majority in the U.S. You can’t fully blame them for not paying attention as Men’s Health Month, National Safety Month, PTSD Awareness Month, and LGBT Pride Month keeps a lot of people preoccupied fighting for their own causes.
But we can’t forget the significance of this month as it provides the greater knowledge we need, as a society, to reach for those who have suffered injustice, social and institutional discrimination, and disenfranchisement in many more ways than one.
This article will focus on bringing awareness to the ever increasing concern for those of color of ALL ethnic groups.
A lot has happened this year that requires our attention. Ethnic minority mental health is more important now than ever before. We have to be reminded to acknowledge the recent events involving thousands of displaced immigrant children, the murder of Antwon Rose jr, repeated incidents of police brutality, the traumatic stress that is most likely to surface among the Thailand Cave Rescue boys and their families, and many other cases that will require the help of mental health professionals.
There are 5 ways we, as a society, can contribute to increased awareness during this time and beyond. Some of these ways include but are not limited to:
1. Building Awareness
Building awareness of ethnic minority mental health is key because minorities have experienced disenfranchisement in the field of mental health. It still continues today. Sadly, the fields of psychiatry and psychotherapy were once dominated by Caucasian males before women, especially ethnic women, could break through.
It took years for women of all cultures, but particularly women of color, to gain status and respect in this field. Can you imagine the barriers I have had to face in this field? As one of multi-ethnic race, I find that a new job for women of ethnic minority status arises which is to now bring awareness, services, and opportunities to those who need it most.
It is those who cannot travel to, trust, or engage with a mental health provider that needs the anchor. It is the family who decides to deal with complex trauma and post-traumatic stress by using drugs or alcohol, multiple sexual encounters, anti-social behaviors, and other disturbing behaviors that need our help.
But how do we reach them? The answer is almost always found among those therapists who are sensitive to culture, race, and ethnicities of all cultures.
2. Reducing Shame
Awareness of mental health needs and trauma-informed care is also important because of widespread stigma within communities of color around the topic of mental health. Sadly, African American communities tend to struggle with surrendering to mental health services that are outside of a Church or religious group. Most African American families receive their “counseling” from religious affiliations or churches as opposed to trained mental health professionals. There are many reasons for this. One main reason is a general lack of trust of the field of psychiatry and psychotherapy. Again, the field was dominated for years by Caucasian men and a lot of people of color fear the mentality, the education, and the treatment tools are highly influenced by this rigid system.
3. Reducing Fear of Oppression
As one who has worked with ethnic minority juvenile delinquents in the past, I can safely say that many requested therapy services from staff who were considered “minorities” or individuals who had great exposure to and acceptance of different cultures. It’s certainly safer.
I remember asking a 15-year-old Native American and Hispanic mixed boy if his family has ever tried counseling. He replied: “why would I go to someone who oppressed my entire culture and continues to segregate throughout the world?” This question was eye-opening and earth-shattering as I realized that he not only suffered from the oppression of his psychiatric illness, but also fear and lack of trust of a so-called “dominate culture” in the U.S. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Native American males account for 64% of suicides among those ages 15-24. It’s an issue that many clinicians and mental health professionals neglect to pay attention to. Even more, the fear associated with “forced assimilation” into a dominant culture often leads to depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
NAMI also reports a shortage in Latino and Hispanic mental health professionals. As a result, this shortage tends to affect the number of Latino or Hispanic individuals who feel comfortable pursuing therapy. There are a reported 29 Latino mental health professionals for every 100,000 Latinos.
Asian Americans are also ignored in mental health. Interestingly, 20% of Asian Americans are problem gamblers and about 9.1% struggle with substance abuse.
4. Making Services Available & Offering Resources
Mental health services are often underutilized and highly stigmatized by the ethnic minority community. Treatment is typically the last resort for cultures who rely heavily on holistic health, alternative and nontraditional healing practices (e.g., the Native American and Alaskan/Indian culture), faith-oriented practices, and Christian counseling.
Sadly, for urban or inner-city residents the majority of services are found in suburban or “well-to-do” areas as well as larger cities. Securing transpiration or funds to travel and being able to pay for services can be a headache for many families. As a result, alternative avenues for treatment are sought before traditional psychiatric services are even considered. These “alternative solutions” may include illegal use of alcohol and drugs such as street narcotics, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and other street drugs. The pressure continues to mount as the individual with untreated mental health problems now struggles with substance abuse problems as well. Dual treatment programs are also often out of reach for these individuals.
Many theories on ethnic minority mental health support the view that services continue to be out of reach physically (i.e., location) or financially. While this is true, other pressing issues include personal lack of interest or knowledge about mental illness, high clinical fees minority clients cannot pay, and lack of cultural competence among mental health therapists that push these clients away.
Lack of awareness not only affects minorities struggling with mental health problems but also our society at large.
I encourage you to share this article and other articles, videos, comments, etc. like it to contribute to the significance of this month. You can tweet to the hashtag: #minoritymentalhealth. Learn more about this month and ways to bring awareness by visiting NAMI’s website.
I wish you well
NAMI.(2014). National minority mental health awareness month. Tools you can use. Retrieved July 12, 2014, from http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=138672.
PEERS Tv. (2011, October, 8). Snapping the chain: Ending mental health stigma in the African American community. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcqtFlLNSa4.
PEERS Tv. (n.d.). PEERS Tv. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/user/peerstv?feature=watch.
Note: This article was originally written 7/16/2014 but has been updated (with a video included) to ensure comprehensiveness and accuracy.