By Tanika S. Williams DNP, PMHNP, AGPCNP
Mental health challenges know no boundaries. Symptoms impact people of all ages regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, identity or walk of life. Yet, our backgrounds, cultural identities, beliefs and values play a large role in shaping our perception of life and how we view mental health.
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July shines an important light on the unique obstacles that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities face year-round when it comes to mental health care.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that only 31% of Black and Hispanic people and 22% of Asian people seek mental health care, compared to 48% of white people. The consequences are eye-opening. Suicide rates among Black adolescents have increased faster in the last two decades than any other racial group, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, and death by suicide is twice as likely among Black children as compared to white children.
Proactive steps must be taken to ensure that we are seeking and receiving the care we need and deserve.
Cultural impacts on mental health
Shared cultural experiences offer many benefits including a deepened sense of belonging and source of strength. However, cultural influences also shape our perspectives on mental health and openness to seeking treatment.
This stigma can be subtle. Symptoms are dismissed or not considered “bad” enough for treatment. You may have been told to toughen up and get over it. Seeking therapy and medication is thought to be a sign of weakness and often associated with feelings of shame.
You can help flip the script:
- Admit when help is needed. Understanding your condition and seeking counsel from a professional can help overcome feelings of shame and self-doubt while taking steps toward healing.
- Lean on others. Isolation only hinders the healing process. If your family and close friends aren’t a source of support, a health care provider can help connect you to resources such as a support group, program or online forum.
- Change the way we talk about mental health. Stigma often stems from misunderstanding, and these ideologies can be perpetuated among younger generations unless we make a conscious effort for change. Try to speak more openly about your journey and encourage your loved ones to share too.
- Listen and never assume. No matter our cultural upbringing, each person’s experience is uniquely their own. Take the time to listen and understand each other’s perspectives.
Accessibility of care
Accessibility is one of the major barriers to mental health treatment. Ethnic and racial minorities are three times less likely to have insurance than their white counterparts, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Self-care is commonly put on the back burner among those who lack reliable transportation or are already struggling to afford groceries and pay the bills. To prioritize your mental health, you can:
- Look for providers that accept Medicaid and Medicare (at Elite DNA, we accept both, and a variety of insurance plans)
- Consider telehealth
- Go to a friend’s or a nearby public library if you have limited access to internet
- Start a carpool with a friend or family member and split transportation costs
- Ask if you are eligible for non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT)
Culturally informed care is needed
Representation and cultural competency in mental health care matters. Yet, studies show that only 6.2% of psychologists, 5.6% of advanced-practice psychiatric nurses and 12.6% of social workers are members of minority groups.
Lack of representation is prevalent, however, it should not deter you from seeking treatment. Instead:
- Research local BIPOC providers
- Request a therapist who has multicultural experience or training for cultural competency
- Ask a trusted friend for a recommendation
- Consider telehealth until a provider becomes available locally
- Ask your therapist if they’ve treated other people of similar backgrounds
- Discuss concerns during initial meetings to determine if a provider is the right fit
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health. Each person’s life experience is different. This diversity in the journey to emotional wellbeing should be celebrated while also being tailored with your individualized recovery in mind.
About the Author
Tanika S. Williams is a Psychiatric Mental Health and Adult Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner for Elite DNA Behavioral Health, a comprehensive mental and behavioral health service provider with more than 20 locations across Florida. For more information, visit EliteDNA.com. for Elite DNA Behavioral Health, a comprehensive mental and behavioral health service provider with more than 20 locations across Florida. For more information, visit EliteDNA.com.
If you experience a mental health condition or symptoms of mental illness, please know that you are not alone. Our team will meet you where you are at and develop a care plan that is right for you. For more information, click here to find your nearest location or contact us.
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