Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. However, culture, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult.
America’s entire mental health system needs improvement, including when it comes to serving marginalized communities. When trying to access treatment, these communities have to contend with:
- Language barriers
- A culturally insensitive system
- Racism, bias and discrimination in treatment settings
- Lower quality care
- Lower chance of health care coverage
- Stigma from several angles (for being a minority and for having mental illness)
These are all in addition to the usual road blocks. Many cultures also view mental health treatment as a luxury, considering symptoms a “phase” that will eventually pass. These harmful perceptions of mental illness can further isolate individuals who desperately need help.
We can all help ignite change against these disparities and fight stigma this Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. It simply starts with learning more about mental health and informing your community.
Consider Giving A Presentation
Starting conversations about mental health in your community may feel intimidating—especially if your community views mental illness as a personal fault or weakness. But the more we talk about mental illness, the more normalized it will become. And NAMI is here to help!
Consider giving NAMI presentations to your community, like Sharing Hope for the African American community and Compartiendo Esperanza for the Hispanic and Latino communities. These presentations go over the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions as well as how and where to find help. If neither of these presentations fit your background, feel free to use them as models to create your own presentation tailored to your community’s needs.
Make sure to stress the importance of a culturally competent provider. These mental health professionals integrate your beliefs and values into treatment. To find a provider that does this, you may have to do a significant amount of research. In addition to searching online, you can also ask trusted friends and family for recommendations or ask for referrals from cultural organizations in your community (like your local AKA Chapter).
In your first session, make sure to ask any questions you may have about the professional’s cultural competence. For example:
- Do you have any experience treating someone from my background?
- Have you had any cultural competence training?
- How would you include aspects of my identity into my care?
Be confident when disclosing relevant information about your beliefs, culture, sexual orientation and/or gender identity that could potentially affect your care. Your provider will play a vital role in your treatment, so make sure you feel comfortable and can communicate well with them before committing to them. Remember: If you feel like your provider doesn’t understand you, it’s okay to leave. Cultural competency is very beneficial to effective treatment. It might take a bit of effort to find the right fit, but recovery is worth it.
Share Your Story
When a person experiences symptoms of mental illness, one of the most helpful and comforting feelings is knowing that they’re not alone. It can be incredibly reassuring to know in this moment right now, someone else is going through similar struggles as you are—regardless of where they are, who they are, or how they identify.
If you’re ever feeling isolated or that your community doesn’t understand mental illness, explore story-sharing platforms like Ok2Talkand You Are Not Alone. On these platforms, everyday people write about their deepest struggles with mental illness and their hopes for recovery. If you feel comfortable, post your thoughts and feelings about or experiences with mental illness—it’s rewarding to know you are helping others feel less isolated.
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness and stop stigma in diverse communities. It’s time to improve the harsh realities minority communities face when it comes to mental illness treatment. In fact, it’s long overdue.
Make sure to check out the NAMI Blog this July, as we’ll be featuring minority mental health experiences all month long.
Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI.
Note: An earlier version of this blog appeared on NAMI.org in July 2017.