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Minority Mental Health Equity

July is recognized as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in honor of Bebe Moore Campbell. Bebe Moore Campbell co-founded the National Alliance on Mental Illness Urban Los Angeles, advocating for mental health education and support for minority groups. Her legacy continues, especially during the month of July, when we remember her efforts to destigmatize mental illness. The US House of Representatives set two goals for this month: 1) to improve access to mental health treatment and services and promote public awareness of mental illness and 2) to recognize Bebe Moore Campbell for the enhancement of public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities.

Mental health care involves taking care of our emotional, psychological and social well-being and addressing impacted thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Mental health problems may arise at any point in life for individuals of any age. Minority groups often experience longer-lasting mental health concerns, typically due to a lack of awareness and lack of treatment as a result. Increased knowledge about mental health concerns can help empower diversity groups to learn more, seek support, and decrease the stigma that continues to surround mental health in numerous communities even today.

Racial/ethnic, gender, and sexual minorities often experience poor mental health outcomes, underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis, and/or lack of treatment due to multiple factors. These factors include inaccessibility of quality mental health care services, lack of insurance, cultural stigma regarding mental health treatment, deficient diverse and/or culturally competent mental health providers, language barriers, discrimination or distrust in the health care system, cultural presentation of symptoms, and a general absence of mental health awareness.

Health equity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is defined as the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their highest level of mental health and emotional well-being. Some of the challenges minorities face within the healthcare system can be categorized as health disparities, which are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by populations that have been disadvantaged by their social or economic status, geographic location, and environment.  

Untreated mental health illnesses can have direct and indirect impacts on an individual or society as a whole. Some issues that may arise are worsening symptoms, family dysfunction, billions of dollars in lost productivity, per NAMI statistics, physical health issues, financial concerns, job instability, incarceration, substance use, exploitation, and suicide. Improving mental health equity can help to create awareness and more opportunities for individuals to receive treatment from a mental health professional, such as a therapist or social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Public health organizations, healthcare systems, states, and communities all play a large role in promoting mental health equality. However, individuals can take initiative to increase awareness by talking about personal experiences, sharing knowledge, and setting goals to increase our own mental health competency. Our voices are one of the most powerful tools that we have. We can use our voices to speak about our own mental health experiences, talking openly with family and friends, and using our language carefully to not further mental health stigma. Individuals who live with mental health illnesses are often subject to ridicule, when compassion and empathy should be shown. Instead of furthering stigma by calling someone “crazy” or “mentally challenged,” we can use specific language such as “living with a mental health disorder.” These small changes to our speech can make profound changes in our environments. Keeping the conversation going instead of shying away from difficult topics is essential in promoting awareness.

Learning about common mental health warning signs and symptoms can further contribute to our awareness and can help us become more empathetic towards others. Common mental health warning signs include two or more weeks of changes to sleeping and/or eating patterns, feeling very sad or withdrawn, increased risk-taking behaviors, sudden overwhelming fear for no apparent reason, drastic changes to mood or behavior, and intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities. Knowing which community resources are available can allow one to share their knowledge with others and help someone receive treatment, someone who might not have had prior access to these resources. Primary care physicians, pediatricians, and school counselors are often initial points of contact who have a wealth of knowledge to share.

Some individuals may choose self-coping and relaxation strategies to help manage their mental health symptoms. It is important to recognize that there is help if those tools are not working, if symptoms do not go away, or if mental health conditions worsen. Each of us plays an important role in decreasing stigma and increasing mental health awareness. Our words and actions can help provide insight to those who are living with mental health problems. There is always an alternative solution to solving any problem and sometimes it takes the help of another individual to get there. With these guidelines, we are one step closer to reaching health equity and increasing mental health awareness for all groups.

Minority Mental Health Equity Resources:

CDC - Mental Health Information

National Alliance for Mental Illness - Learn About Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

American Psychiatric Association - Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations

Rida FaridiRida Faridi is a therapist in Brook Lane’s school-based mental health program, which provides up to four free therapy sessions to students in all Washington County middle, high, and several elementary schools. The therapy takes place within schools, eliminating the need for transportation to the sessions. Faridi earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology with a concentration in conflict resolution studies in Washington & Jefferson College and a master’s degree in clinical mental-health counseling from Duquesne University.