Updated: Sep 19, 2020
"Misery won’t touch you gentle. It always leaves its thumbprints on you; sometimes it leaves them for others to see, sometimes for nobody but you to know of.”
- Edwidge Danticat (The Farming of Bones)
July is Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness month, a time for us to advocate for mental health services within our communities. This month was first recognized in 2008, as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, as people of color as facing several traumas, mental health is ever important.
Black, Indigenous and people of color face high burdens of mental health disorders when compared to their White counterparts. According to the American Psychological Association, although in some BIPOC populations the rate of mental disease may be lower, the burden of disability is often higher in these populations. In fact, Black Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than White Americans according to the Office of Minority Affairs. Furthermore, while rates of depression are lower in Black and Hispanic people, these populations tend to experience more persistent side effects from it.
Even with the concerns surrounding our mental health, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, only 1 in 3 Black adults receive mental health care. There are many reasons for these disparities:
Socioeconomic barriers - Lack of health insurance, lack of transportation and a shortage of available providers are all examples of these types of barriers that can impede access to mental health services.
Stigma - In the Black community, seeking mental health care can unfortunately be seen as a sign of weakness.
Religion - The importance of prayer and faith in the Black community can sometimes impede mental health care, as people rely on prayer rather than supplementing treatment with their faith.
Provider bias - A lack of culturally competent care from non-Black mental health professionals can make it difficult for Black people to trust the care they are receiving.
My personal mental health journey has helped me to understand how the various traumas I've experienced in my life have affected me. I felt from a young age that my feelings didn't truly matter and because of that, I never really learned how to understand, cope with and express my feelings. I instead learned to repress my feelings, which led to depression and suicidal desires as a teenager. As a young adult, my depression stayed with me and combined with low self-esteem, led to poor decision making.
Now, in my thirties, I am working hard to take control of my trauma and learn to express my feelings and needs. I have been in therapy for a year and a half and in that time I have begun to be more expressive to my family and friends, in my work life and when dating. Therapy has made such a difference in me being able to find my voice. It's something that I wished I had not waited so long to start, but I am happy that I did. I have family and friends who have since started their mental health journeys and I am so happy for them.
While we all may need different levels of care - some may need clinical levels of care for more severe illness - I have always said that most of the population of adults need some form of mental health therapy. We've all been subjected to various traumas that have affected our ability to be our best whole selves. Talking to an objective person who can help guide you in recognizing and correcting the things you struggle with can be freeing.
There is no shame in seeking help for your mental health. Doing so can help you show up in every part of your life. I encourage you to visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness for several resources to help you access mental health services. As you begin the process, keep a few things in mind:
Find a Black therapist - Culturally competent care is important and you are more likely to get this from a therapist or doctor who looks like you.
Test out your therapists - This person is someone you are going to be telling your deepest secrets to, so it is important that you feel comfortable. Don't be afraid to try a few different therapists until you find one that is a good fit.
Show up and do the work - Therapy won't work if you don't do the work. Be introspective and apply the lessons from therapy into life. Do the homework that your therapist assigns.
Be open-minded - Listen, your therapist may read you for filth from time to time. You'll be sitting there trying to figure out why you're out here paying someone to play your life like this. It's in those moments that I know that therapy is working for me because all my therapist has done is hold a mirror up for me to examine my behavior. Your therapist is going to challenge your thoughts and behaviors and it is your responsibility to be receptive to it.
Stay the course - Therapy isn't a quick fix, be prepared to be in it for the long haul. We're working to break generational cycles and that isn't going to happen overnight.
Consider sharing - My friends and I talk about the lesson we've learned in therapy. Sometimes it helps to go back to someone who knows you well to discuss and gain additional perspective. Talking openly about therapy has also helped some of my loved ones feel more comfortable with the thought of exploring it for themselves.
Therapy is work, it isn't easy. But it is absolutely worth it. Mental health is essential to living a full healthy life and we all deserve to live our best lives.
Have you ever tried therapy? Did it help?