Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illnesses for People of Color

closeup of handsome Black man's face/eyes - BIPOC and mental health

It’s challenging to have a mood or mental health disorder, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, or depression. But certain individuals also have further difficulties opening up about their illnesses to families or within their social circles because of stigmas. This is what many members of the BIPOC community—Black, indigenous, and people of color—face when trying to seek help or manage their conditions.

Systemic Challenges for Mental Health Wellness

Mental illness can affect anyone, but certain mitigating factors make individuals in the BIPOC community more susceptible than White individuals. Counseling Today (CT) reported in 2020 that BIPOC individuals are less likely to:

  • Have reliable or affordable access to mental health services.
  • Seek out services for mood or mental health disorders.
  • Receive necessary comprehensive treatment.

And more likely to:

  • Receive poor treatment.
  • End services prematurely.

Some of these factors relate to faults within the care system. For example:

  • More than 85 percent of service providers are White, according to the American Psychological Association.
  • For many members of the BIPOC community, their first opportunity for mental health care is in prison, and is generally substandard or involves traumatic correction methods.
  • Some research indicates more than 50 percent of incarcerated BIPOC have mental health issues, and it questions the legitimacy of incarceration for symptoms and behavior compared to actual treatment.
  • Statistically, Black men are “four times more likely than White men” to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and consistently “underdiagnosed for posttraumatic stress disorder and mood disorders.”

Recent History

CT also points out that “race and insanity share a long and troubled past.” For example, as recently as the late 1960s, shortly after the Civil Rights Movement, authors of an article in the venerable Archives of General Psychiatry described schizophrenia as a “‘protest psychosis’ in which black men developed ‘hostile and aggressive feelings’ and ‘delusional anti-whiteness’ after listening to or aligning with activist groups such as Black Power, the Black Panthers, or the Nation of Islam.” CT further states that, “the authors wrote that psychiatric treatment was required because symptoms threatened black men’s own sanity, as well as the social order of white America.” This is one of literally hundreds of racially-motivated tactics that suppressed individuals in search of treatment.

Barriers to Treatment

For many members of the BIPOC community, talking about mental health is akin to having targets on their backs. In many Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and Pacific Islander cultures, as well as among people who identify as multi-racial, mental illness:

  • Is considered a weakness.
  • Is something to be ashamed of.
  • Casts a negative light on the family structure.

Nevertheless, screening conducted by Mental Health America (MHA) reports more than 18 million BIPOC Americans have mood and mental health disorders. Additionally, MHA indicates that “socioeconomic status, in turn, is linked to mental health: people who are impoverished, homeless, incarcerated, or have substance use problems are at higher risk for poor mental health.”

As a result of damaging stigmas, the Mayo Clinic notes that people needing mental health care might suffer from:

  • A lack of support or understanding from family members, friends, co-workers, and other people.
  • Harassment, bullying, and physical harm.
  • Feelings of unworthiness, lack of motivation, disbelief in abilities to overcome challenges.
  • Fewer opportunities for housing, employment, higher education, and social networks.
  • Less economical support for proper treatment.

Reducing the Stigma for the BIPOC Community

Many individuals and organizations are rallying to lift up all people with mental illness, particularly BIPOC.

MHA recognizes a need to prioritize the use of proper language when helping BIPOC. It cites that the “continued use of ‘minority’ or ‘marginalized’ sets up BIPOC communities in terms of their quantity instead of their quality, and removes their personhood.” The organization stresses that “‘minority’ also emphasizes the power differential between ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ groups, and can make BIPOC feel as though ‘minority’ is synonymous with inferiority.” In July 2020, MHA decided to no longer use the term minority when describing demographic groups other than White.

How NAMI Is Making a Difference

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) created a series of videos called “Strength Over Silence” to reach out to BIPOC and encourage them to find resources uniquely suited to their needs. They feature:

Additional Resources

The JED Foundation provides teens, young adults, families, and communities resources to promote emotional and mental health, as well as prevent suicide. Programs include Love Is Louder, Half of Us, and ULifeline, to name a few.

QTPoC Mental Health assists queer, trans, and intersex people of color. It developed a comprehensive list of articles and resources to help raise greater awareness and solidarity. Also look into the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network.

There are also valuable awareness campaigns, connections, and assistance found through:

You’ll find even more targeted national resources through NAMI New Hampshire, and locally-specific assistance through NAMI Arizona.

We See You

At Cottonwood Tucson, our medical professionals strive to know you as an individual, not a diagnosis. Each person has unique life and cultural experiences that contribute to their mental health, and we do all we can to meet you where you are and create the future of wellness you deserve. Learn more about our approach to help you.

For more information about Cottonwood Tucson, and mental health treatment in Arizona, call (888) 727-0441. We are ready to help you or your loved one find lasting recovery.
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