As mental health providers, understanding the diverse needs and experiences of all communities is critical to deliver needed care.
Specifically, for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community, certain institutional and cultural barriers can pose a challenge to accessing mental health care.
Through the expert perspective of Jenai Hicks, a licensed mental health counselor, we’ll examine some of the primary hurdles:
- financial concerns
- lack of job-related benefits
- systemic discrimination
- cultural stigmas
- lack of representation in mental health professionals
that can make accessing mental health care challenging for the BIPOC community.
The recognition and elimination of these barriers is essential to fostering an equitable mental health environment.
Pioneering Advocacy: Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Month
Bebe Moore Campbell was an influential figure in bringing attention to minority mental health disparities. As an African American author and advocate, she used her platform to address mental health issues faced by minorities in the U.S.
Her novel, 72 Hour Hold, explored a Black mother’s struggle to help her bipolar daughter. The book reveals the challenges at the intersection of race, mental health, and societal indifference.
Campbell’s advocacy extended beyond literature. She also co-founded the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Urban Los Angeles (NAMI Urban LA), which provides resources and support for individuals and families affected by mental illness in diverse urban communities.
Her tireless efforts led Congress in 2008 to declare July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, now known as BIPOC Mental Health Month.
As her legacy, Campbell played a pivotal role in changing the dialogue around mental health in minority communities.
The groundwork laid by individuals like Campbell paves the way for a more inclusive mental health discourse, bringing us one step closer to ensuring comprehensive and accessible care for all.
Removing Economic Barriers to Mental Health Care
Early in our conversation, Hicks identified one of the key barriers faced by the BIPOC community:
“One of the most common barriers the BIPOC community faces when seeking mental health treatment is lack of access to mental health resources, lack of income, as well as lack of ability to even really fully engage in care because of those,” she explains.
These barriers to care are often interconnected, rooted in both the historical and current socio-economic disadvantages experienced by many BIPOC individuals.
Differences in earning potential or not having access to employer-based benefits contributes to the belief that therapy and mental health care resources are a luxury rather than a right.
This can make accessing therapy and related mental health resources more challenging for BIPOC individuals compared to their white counterparts.
“A lot of BIPOC individuals tend to experience poverty. When you’re earning less income than your white counterparts, this impacts just whether they believe they’re even able to even afford mental health services,” Hicks notes.
To overcome financial barriers to mental health care, behavioral health practices can adopt sliding scale discount programs designed to make therapy and other mental health resources more affordable for the BIPOC community.
Often shift-based work poses its own barrier to care. In many jobs, working hours and breaks don’t line up with standard hours of operation for many mental health providers.
Hicks suggests, “If you have someone who tends to have a job that may not have those hour-long lunch breaks, and as a provider you can do an evening appointment…offer that. If you can do an early morning appointment, offer that option. A 30-minute session is better than no session. Think about how you can work with the person.”
If traveling to an office isn’t possible due to time constraints or limited transportation, telehealth options are often available.
Religion, Faith and Mental Health Care
Religion and faith are particularly significant in the BIPOC community, and unfortunately that can lead to a common misconception that belief can’t coexist with therapy.
“It’s a big misconception that spirituality and faith cannot coexist with therapy. People feel that if you are engaging in therapy, it means that you do not have trust or you don’t value your faith,” Hicks explains.
She emphasizes that both can coexist and even complement each other. Prayer can even serve as a coping skill and be fully supported by your therapist.
University of Southern California Professor Ruth White explained the interconnectedness of cultural and religious beliefs with mental health attitudes within African American communities.
The BIPOC community demonstrated a high prevalence of religious devotion. Approximately 87% of the BIPOC community members reporting a formal religious connection.
This can lead to an environment where spiritual practices are often the default approach for managing mental health concerns. This can even overshadow people seeing a need for professional intervention.
The resilience narrative that has emerged as a response to systemic racism and oppression can stigmatize seeking of mental health assistance, too.
This notion that surviving adversity should preclude any mental struggles can alienate those in need of services and can discourage them from accessing help.
Addressing the barriers of religiosity necessitates a paradigm shift.
A good starting point would be normalizing mental health discussions and promoting that religion, faith, and mental health care all have a role to play in successful, holistic care.
Internalized and Institutional Racism Demand Greater Advocacy and Representation
Internalized and institutional racism also plays a major role in creating barriers for the BIPOC community who may be considering working with a mental health care provider.
Therapists should keep in mind both the experience of racism and its societal context when working with BIPOC clients.
Social narratives and media portrayals can contribute to positively shaping mental health perspectives within the BIPOC community by emphasizing the necessity of a cultural shift in the portrayal of mental illness.
It’s important that BIPOC individuals see and hear stories that depict people who look like them overcoming mental illness and leading successful, fulfilled lives.
Celebrities like Lizzo, Big Sean, Michelle Obama, Shakira, and Demi Lovato are helping to destigmatize mental health struggles by sharing openly about the success of counseling and other mental health resources.
There is no shame in accessing the mental health services. You deserve to live a life of joy.
Still, the mental health field often lacks professionals who look, sound like, or share similar backgrounds with BIPOC individuals.
There is a real need for culturally competent care, with therapists who understand the unique challenges faced by these communities. This will serve as a pathway to further destigmatize mental health and increase access to care.
Beyond adapting therapy services to be more accessible and culturally appropriate, Hicks highlights the importance of increasing representation of BIPOC individuals as providers in the mental health field.
“I really do think there needs to be an initiative to recruit more BIPOC individuals as mental health professionals, like visiting HBCUs ” she proposes.
Increased representation will communicate to BIPOC individuals that mental health services are for them too.
Elite DNA is Addressing Barriers to Care
It’s crucial to acknowledge and address the unique barriers the BIPOC community faces when seeking mental health services.
At Elite DNA we are dedicated to breaking down financial barriers, respectfully challenging misconceptions related to faith, combating institutional racism, and continuing to increase diversity and representation in the mental health field.
We are dedicated to delivering culturally appropriate care. We have providers available during variable hours and we offer sliding scale fees.
It is entirely appropriate to request a provider that is a person of color or a female, if it makes you feel more comfortable. Having shared cultural experiences can be highly beneficial in a therapeutic relationship.
As a new patient your scheduler or care coordinator will help you connect with the right provider for you.
Your treatment plan will be personalized and customized for the most effective results. We offer individual programs as well as group therapy and family therapy.
You’re Not Alone…We Can Help
We encourage you to reach out one of our many locations to connect with a provider who can help.
We also offer high-quality, stable, and confidential telehealth sessions through Zoom. You can be assured of an experience just like that you’d have in the office.
Whether in person, or virtually, our mental and behavioral health experts are here to support you every step of the way.