How to Show Up for BIPOC Mental Health

ESH Blog
How to Show Up for BIPOC Mental Health
Text reading "July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month" with people of color lined up looking to the left
Text reading "July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month" with people of color lined up looking to the left

Today, mental health awareness is increasingly in the spotlight, revealing the challenges that many individuals face in their daily lives. However, it is crucial to recognize that mental health experiences are not uniform, and the struggles faced by people who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) are often overlooked or misunderstood. BIPOC communities face unique challenges, such as racism and discrimination, which can impact their mental wellbeing. That is why National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month holds great significance. As an emotional support human, you have the power to amplify the voices of those who may feel hesitant to speak out, ensuring everyone has an advocate who will stand up for their well-being.

BIPOC Mental Health Awareness

If you’re not familiar with National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, it’s a month-long observance in July that aims to bring awareness to the unique struggles faced by BIPOC communities. This observance strives to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage open conversations.

This observance is also widely referred to as the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, named after its founder. Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities.

Mental Health Impacts of Racism and Prejudice

Racism is a public health issue because it can cause stress and trauma in BIPOC communities. Even witnessing or hearing about racist and discriminatory acts experienced by others can impact an individual’s mental health. These acts may send internalized messages to BIPOC individuals, fostering a sense of “otherness” or feeling unwanted. This may lead to anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, Black Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Additionally, Mental Health America reported a significant increase in anxiety and depression symptoms among people who identify as Black or African American since January 2020, while people who identify as Native American and American Indian reported the highest increase in thoughts of self-harm or suicide.

Compounding the impact of racism and prejudice on mental health is lack of access to a mental health professional who is culturally competent in BIPOC mental health care. Certainly, many people in the U.S. experience challenges finding mental health professionals and finding ones whom their insurance covers. People who are BIPOC experience this too, with the added hurdle of finding someone who understands the mental health impacts of racism and their lived experiences as someone who is BIPOC.

For example, NAMI reports that people who are Black may be more likely to identify and describe physical symptoms related to mental health problems. They may describe bodily aches and pains when talking about depression. A health care provider who is not culturally competent might not recognize these as symptoms of a mental health condition. Additionally, people who are Black are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia when expressing symptoms related to mood disorders.

Culturally competent mental health professionals can play a vital role in providing support and understanding to individuals who have experienced racism. It’s important that BIPOC individuals find mental health professionals and therapists who understand their social and cultural needs. These professionals will work to understand the beliefs, backgrounds, and values of their clients – this includes their culture, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and sexuality. A mental health professional should offer empathy, not minimization or dismissal of symptoms and pain.

More Reasons to Speak Up

Supporting your loved ones who are BIPOC and helping break down stigmas surrounding mental health makes a difference! Speaking up can make a profound impact on their lives, communities, society, and on you as an emotional support human. If you personally know someone in the BIPOC community experiencing mental health challenges, your efforts can bring about meaningful and positive change in their lives. Furthermore, raising mental health awareness yields community-wide advantages, such as:

  • Addressing stigma and cultural barriers
  • Increasing access to care
  • Fostering inclusivity and diversity in mental health discussions
  • Promoting understanding and empathy
  • Amplifying marginalized voices
  • Creating supportive communities
  • Empowering individuals to seek help
  • Encouraging open conversations about mental health
  • Raising awareness about unique challenges faced by BIPOC communities

How to Show Up for the BIPOC Community

When it comes to supporting the mental health of the BIPOC community, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, one thing that remains constant is the importance of showing kindness and respect. By approaching your actions with empathy and understanding, you can create a positive impact and contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment. Below, we’ve outlined six meaningful actions you can take to make a difference and show up as a support human, whether you are a BIPOC community member or an ally.

1. Look Within: Educate Yourself, Then Others

Take the first step in supporting the mental health of the BIPOC community by educating yourself about the unique challenges and disparities they may face (and that you may face yourself). Not sure where to start?

  • Explore the wealth of knowledge available at libraries in Howard County or through online resources focused on BIPOC mental health.
  • Stay informed about upcoming webinars and workshops offered by organizations like NAMI.
  • Consider volunteering with local organizations such as On Our Own Maryland and Behavioral Health System Baltimore (which leads the recent crisis expansion work, and includes Howard County in its service area).
  • Spread the word on 988, the newly launched behavioral health hotline serving our region.
  • Engage in conversations with knowledgeable individuals to gain a deeper understanding of the systemic issues and cultural barriers that affect mental health access and treatment.

For people who are white and seeking to be a support human to friends or family members who are BIPOC: As you embark on your journey to learning, remember to approach it with humility and understanding. This means recognizing that the experiences and challenges faced by the BIPOC community are not new information, but rather their daily reality. Use your new-found knowledge to initiate conversations with others, sharing what you have learned in a respectful and sensitive manner. By doing so, you can help raise awareness, foster empathy, and create a more supportive environment for your BIPOC loved ones.

2. Encourage Loved Ones’ Culturally Competent Care

If you know someone who is BIPOC and seeking mental health care, they may be struggling to find a culturally competent professional. You might ask if they would like help in their search. With their permission, you can take some steps to support them in their search and encourage them to:

  • Reach out to their insurance, primary care provider, community- and faith-based organizations, or family and friends for referrals.
  • Utilize online directories that specialize in connecting individuals with therapists from diverse backgrounds such as TherapyDen, Melanin & Mental Health, and Psychology Today.
  • Request an initial meeting or consultation to access compatibility and ask questions to get a sense of the professional’s level of cultural awareness, such as:
    • Have they treated other BIPOC people or received training in cultural competence for BIPOC mental health?
    • How do they see cultural backgrounds influencing communication and treatment?
    • Do they use a different approach in their treatment when working with patients of different cultural backgrounds?
    • What is their current understanding of differences in health outcomes for BIPOC patients?
  • Ensure that the therapist understands their culture, race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation in the first session.
  • Ensure that the therapist considers their cultural values and beliefs in treatment planning.

3. Promote Self-Care and Wellness

Self-care does not end racism. And, as an emotional support human, it’s not our job to solve someone else’s problems – or offer “fixes” when they just want someone to listen.

But, as an emotional support human, listen to whether the person you are helping is looking for suggestions to recharge. If they are open to ideas, it’s great to encourage self-care days with loved ones in the BIPOC community who may be struggling with their mental health. Consider inviting them to do something with you. Plan activities together such as a spa day, a movie outing, a walk through nature, or a yoga session – the possibilities are endless when it comes to enjoying meaningful activities together that promote well-being and relaxation. By prioritizing self-care as a shared experience, you can create valuable moments of connection and support for each other.

4. Break the Silence in Your Circles

Start conversations about mental health within your social circles, workplace, or community organizations. Encourage open dialogue and create safe spaces for people who are BIPOC to share their experiences if they choose to do so. By breaking the silence and removing the stigma, you can help create a supportive environment that encourages seeking help and support.

5. Amplify with Social Media

Use the power of your social media to raise awareness and advocate for mental health, including mental health impacts of racism and other aspects of BIPOC mental health concerns. Share informative posts, personal stories, and relevant articles on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Utilize hashtags and engage with your online communities to amplify the voices of those affected and foster conversations around mental health disparities. Some popular and relevant hashtags to consider: #blackmentalhealth #blackmentalhealthmatters #mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #blackmentalwellness #blacklove #mentalhealthmatters #blacklivesmatter #selfcare #selflove #therapy #blackgirlmagic #therapyforblackmen #minoritymentalhealth #blackexcellence #healing #blackmen #blackhealth #blackpower #blackmentalhealthawareness #mentalillness #anxiety #generationalhealing #mentalhealthadvocate #blackconsciousness #blackwomen #therapyforblackgirls

6. Be a Community Advocate – Join the Coalition

Become an active member of the Mental Health Matters Coalition by volunteering your time, advocating for change, and leveraging your skills to support mental health in Howard County. Through the Mental Health Matters Coalition, support humans can amplify our collective voice!

Creating a Community Together

To combat the mental health impacts of racism and prejudice, we must work toward creating an environment that promotes inclusivity, equality, and respect for all. This involves actively supporting friends and family who experience mental health challenges, challenging systemic racism, joining the Mental Health Matters Coalition to get involved in advocacy, and breaking the stigma of talking about BIPOC mental health. By amplifying the voices of marginalized communities, promoting empathy and understanding, and providing accessible and equitable mental health support, we can strive for a future where mental wellbeing is prioritized for all individuals, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

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