Mental Health Myth: Mental illness is the same for people of all races. For most of us, race is a controversial, hot topic, so I’m going to go ahead and give you a warning: this article may make you uncomfortable.
Mental illness does not necessarily present differently from race to race. For example, the symptoms of schizophrenia are basically the same for a white, black, or Native American person. However, the way mental illness is perceived, diagnosed and treated in these communities is different.
When you visit the Mental Health America website this month, you will see that July is Indigenous Black of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month. This is a time when mental health care providers strive to raise awareness of the unique mental health issues faced by underrepresented groups. This awareness month was first recognized in 2008 and was designed to continue the work of Bebe Moore Campbell after her death in 2006. Campbell was an author, journalist, teacher and mental health advocate who worked to make light on the unique mental health needs of BIPOC. people.
Ms Moore Campbell explained how mental illness can be a different experience for people of colour: “Stigma is one of the main reasons why people with mental health issues do not seek treatment or take their medications. People of color feel stigma more keenly. In a race-conscious society, some do not want to be seen as having yet another deficit.
There are many people who don’t believe that people of color are more stigmatized for mental illness. They believe that we now live in a color blind society, skin color no longer matters and people are treated the same. Current research indicates that race is a huge factor in how people are diagnosed and treated for mental health. For example, Dr. Amanda Calhoun explains, “Black children are more likely to be diagnosed with disruptive behavioral diagnoses, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), than white children, who are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ) for comparable behaviors. The words we use to label symptoms are important. Consider the difference in how children may be treated by authority figures like teachers based on these labels – ODD or ADHD.
People of color also feel more at risk when they show symptoms of mental illness and become involved in law enforcement. A recent poll conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) found that 85% of Black Americans say they would be afraid that the police could hurt them or their loved ones when responding to a mental health crisis – this number is 21% higher than the rest of the population. It is sobering to read these numbers and know that our black neighbors are afraid to ask for help.
So how are we going to solve the problem? How do we ensure people with BIPOC receive equitable mental health care? One way is to advocate for more culture-based practices in your community. Culture-based practices allow a person of color to receive services in a way that is familiar to them and to engage with people who already understand their unique situation.
We can support organizations like Thrive, a non-profit organization that partners with VayaHealth each year to provide crisis intervention training (CIT) for first responders. CIT is an intensive 40-hour training that teaches first responders about the different types of mental illness and how to interact more safely with someone in crisis. Henderson County first responders have participated in the CIT program for over 10 years, and it provides invaluable and life-saving knowledge that keeps our entire community safe.
We can work to ensure that more people of color have the opportunities they need to enter the medical profession. A long history of inequality makes it harder for a person of color to earn an advanced degree in health care for a variety of reasons, which is why only about 5% of doctors in the United States identify as black. It’s not hard to imagine that a person of color might feel more comfortable opening up and speaking candidly to another person of color simply because they shared experiences than many white providers. do not have.
Another way to help services be more equitable is to expect all health care providers to have strong training in equitable practices. They need to learn about implicit biases so they can understand their own biases and have the tools to treat others fairly, regardless of race.
Finally, it is crucial to advocate for equitable access to mental health care for people with BIPOC. Historically, members of the BIPOC community have not had equal access to healthcare for a variety of reasons. The lack of accessible healthcare options has further worsened since the pandemic, as many healthcare workers have retired or moved to other fields. Going forward, it is important that we all work to ensure that there are enough health care options in all communities.
For more information about Thrive and the work they do in mental health, visit the website at www.thrive4health.org or call 828-697-1581.
Gruver is the Director of Development and Communications for Thrive