Our culture, beliefs, sexual identity, values, race, and language all affect how we perceive and experience mental health conditions, including whether we get mental health care and the type of treatment we pursue. It can also affect certain groups if they have experienced discrimination due to their identity, which may cause depression symptoms to manifest themselves as anger more than sadness. It is therefore essential for culture and identity to be a part of the conversation as we discuss mental health needs in our community.
To further the conversation, during July, For All Seasons is bringing awareness to Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month. Barriers to mental health treatment for BIPOC individuals include socioeconomic disparities, stigma, provider bias, and inequality of care.
According to Mental Health America, while rates of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation are increasing for people of all races and ethnicities, there are notable differences in those changes over time, related to race. Black or African Americans have had the highest average percent change over time for anxiety and depression with suicide is listed as the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24.1. For the Latinx/Hispanic community, mental health and mental illness are often stigmatized topics resulting in prolonged suffering in silence. People who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander searched more for mental health resources in 2020 than ever before.
Sherone Lewis, Behavioral Health Coordinator at Mid-Shore Behavioral Health and a mental health advocate for diverse and unique populations, shared her thoughts with For All Seasons on how racial and cultural differences affected her use of mental health services. For All Seasons partners with the Rural Mental Health Initiative where, along with Lewis, the agency looks at ways to increase minority access to mental health services.
“I grew up in a very spiritual and religious home, and we didn’t talk about mental health per se. And it was ‘Give everything to the Lord, and everything will be fine,” Lewis shares.
She reflected on a time many years ago, sharing, “When I found myself in a crisis, pregnant with child number four and married to someone who I found out was unfaithful, I realized I just could not handle it all. I realized I needed to talk to someone.”
Lewis decided to go against the advice of her support system, who didn’t see treatment as necessary and got treatment for herself.
“I needed someone impartial who I could speak with who wouldn’t judge me, who wouldn’t tell me this is what I should do and wouldn’t judge me if I didn’t take their advice,” she adds.
“I had never been to therapy before, and I didn’t know what to expect. I thought she was going to tell me how to fix my life. And when she just allowed me to talk and cry and get all that stuff out, I said, ‘You know what, this is ok.’”
“As a person of color, there is still a gross amount of stigma as far as mental health in our community. I encourage anyone to seek treatment. There are a lot of providers, treatment specialties, and treatment modes that suit the individual. Being a spiritual person . . . I wanted them to respect my culture, my spirituality, and my different beliefs,” she concludes.
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services – Office of Minority Health reported the following statistics regarding the mental health needs of the BIPOC community.
- Suicide was the leading cause of death for Asian/Pacific Islanders, ages 15 to 24, in 2019.
- Suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans, ages 15 to 24.1; American Indian/Alaska Natives, between the ages of 10 and 34.1; and Hispanics, ages 15 to 34.1.
When it comes to receiving mental health treatment, the Department reported:
- Asians were 60 percent less likely to have received treatment as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
- Hispanics were 50 percent less likely to have received treatment as compared to non-Hispanic whites.
- Only 1 in 3 Black adults who need mental health care receive it.
Barriers to mental health treatment for BIPOC individuals include socioeconomic disparities, stigma, provider bias, and inequality of care. For information on services, contact For All Seasons: 410.822.1018; https://forallseasonsinc.org
To learn more, visit https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions or https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/minority-mental-health/health-disparities/ or https://www.mentalhealthamerica.org.