BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month (officially designated as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, has been celebrated every year in July. This day was started in 2008 by author and mental health activist Bebe Moore Campbell, who co-founded NAMI Urban Los Angeles and worked tirelessly to improve mental health awareness in Black communities.
On this day, we take time to learn about how mental health issues affect our BIPOC communities. We know from research that BIPOC are much more likely to live with serious mental health issues. But, at the same time, we are much less likely to have access to treatment.
But what can actually help support BIPOC communities and strengthen mental health? This year’s theme may be the answer.
2023 theme: Culture, Community, and Connection
This year, the theme of BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month is “Culture, Community, and Connection.” It sends a message that simply acknowledging the mental health disparities that exist (both in terms of rates of mental illness and treatment access) between BIPOC and white people is not enough. What can help uplift BIPOC and alleviate our mental health concerns?
One thing that can help strengthen BIPOC mental health is building and connecting with community. Especially in the United States, we tend to talk about mental health as if it were an individual issue. You have depression. You live with anxiety. But community plays a huge role in every facet of our lives – including mental health.
For BIPOC, community acts as an important protective factor against mental health issues. In other words, having a strong community around you makes you more resilient against mental health problems.
How can community uplift BIPOC mental health?
Community is an important factor to consider when talking about BIPOC mental health. By building and connecting to your cultural community, you can strengthen mental health both for yourself and for the community members around you.
Here are some ways to think about community and how it relates to BIPOC mental health.
Connecting to cultural values can help you be more resilient to mental health concerns like depression as well as traumatic events.
Research conducted on the mental health effects of Japanese American imprisonment demonstrates this clearly.
One important study found that Nisei (second-generation) Japanese Americans were more likely to suffer from symptoms of post-traumatic stress and long-term mental health problems after imprisonment. They were also less likely to identify with Japanese cultural values like “gaman” (perseverance). On the other hand, first-generation immigrants (Issei) were more likely to preserve these values, which helped them be more resilient against trauma.
What cultural values can you connect to that could help you strengthen your mental health? Perhaps there is a spiritual belief that helps you to get through difficult things or you can relate to the general value of hard work and determination that is common in many immigrant communities.
If you feel safe and comfortable doing so, it may be helpful to talk to family or other people who share your race and culture about cultural values that help them to get through difficult times.
Having strong social support is another important facet of mental health. Although of course BIPOC can and do have relationships with people of other backgrounds, it can sometimes be especially meaningful to build relationships with people who share your race and culture. This could mean your neighbors, friends, relatives, or mentors.
Other BIPOC, especially those who belong to our specific communities, can be people we can count on when times are hard. People who belong to our communities can often understand us and our experiences in ways that others cannot.
This is also where workplaces can shine in terms of supporting BIPOC mental health. Employee resource groups (also called affinity groups) are employee-led voluntary groups that focus on creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces. Having an employee resource group available for people of your race can make a workplace feel much safer for BIPOC employees. And when employees feel safe at work, their mental health improves.
Treatment within the community
One of the biggest barriers to mental health treatment for many BIPOC communities is that we need to go outside of our communities to find help. For example, there is a severe lack of mental health therapists who speak Asian languages, while over 30% of the Asian population in the United States does not speak English.
If you can, it may help to find a treatment provider working within your community. This could mean many things – including a therapist who is physically located within your community (this may make going to sessions easier for you) or a therapist who shares your racial or cultural identity.
Research shows, for example, that Black clients tend to have better treatment outcomes when they’re paired with a Black therapist. The value of finding a treatment provider in your community cannot be overstated.
Finally, engaging in community activism can help improve our communities for everyone, which can lead to overall better mental health.
Higher rates of mental illness (and lower rates of treatment access) in BIPOC communities don’t just arise out of nowhere. There are deep and societal reasons for this – including a history of institutional racism and discrimination, disparities in health services, economic inequalities, exposure to structural violence, housing discrimination, stigma within our own communities, and more.
Mental health problems don’t happen in a vacuum. When people live under racism and economic inequality, it makes sense that they would suffer from rates of depression and anxiety.
It isn’t your job or responsibility to engage in community activism, and some people may feel that this type of emotional labor worsens rather than improves their mental health. It’s important to be mindful of how this type of work affects you.
But for many people, engaging in some type of community activism helps them feel a sense of purpose in life, which leads to an overall improvement in mental health. Activism also helps to chip away at the structural racism and violence that have led to mental health problems in our communities in the first place.
There are so many ways to help your community, including:
- Fighting to improve housing access
- Raising awareness about mental health issues within your own community
- Helping build social connections or a community mentorship program
- Working within education for young people
- Marching for racial equity
When you uplift your community, your community uplifts you. What are some ways in which connecting to the community has helped you strengthen your mental health?
Happy BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month! We are always here to provide 24/7 confidential counseling that takes your culture into account.
To Your Wellbeing,
The MINES Team