The year 2020 has been a tough one already, even though we are only about half-way through. And it has had the potential to be especially traumatic for those in minority communities, with racial inequities at the forefront in our nation, coupled with a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and is a good time to assemble a support team to learn how to be an ally to those who may be struggling.
What is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month?
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in May of 2008, the US House of Representatives announced July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
The month of awareness set out to achieve two goals, according to the NAMI:
- Improve access to mental health treatment and services and promote public awareness of mental illness
- Name a month as the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to enhance public awareness of mental illness and mental illness among minorities
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, “the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are less likely to have access to mental health services, less likely to use community mental health services, more likely to use emergency departments, and more likely to receive lower quality care.”
Poor mental health can lead to a wide array of physical and emotional problems that can quickly snowball out of control; lack of help and support, poor mental health care access and quality of care can lead to suicide among racial and ethnic minority populations, the OMH reported.
According to a report by the OMH, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that:
- In 2017, 10.5% (3.5 million) of young adults age 18 to 25 had serious thoughts of suicide, including 8.3% of non-Hispanic blacks and 9.2% of Hispanics.
- In 2017, 7.5% (2.5 million) of young adults age 18 to 25 had a serious mental illness, including 7.6% of non-Hispanic Asians, 5.7% of Hispanics and 4.6% of non-Hispanic blacks.
- Feelings of anxiety and other signs of stress may become more pronounced during a global pandemic.
- People in some racial and ethnic minority groups may respond more strongly to the stress of a pandemic or crisis.
Marginalized community members may contend with many difficulties when seeking mental healthcare, and according to Interim Inc. those difficulties may include:
- Barriers to access to treatment
- Language barriers
- Lack of cultural competence
- Racism, bias and discrimination in treatment settings
- Lower-quality care
- Lower likelihood of health insurance or adequate coverage
- The high level of mental health stigma in minority populations
- Belief that treatment will not help
What resources are available to members of minority communities?
Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: this site offers “a confidential and anonymous source of information for persons seeking treatment facilities in the United States or U.S. Territories for substance use/addiction and/or mental health problems.” All you have to do is enter your location and the generator will help find mental health care providers in your area.
FindTreatment.Gov by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: this site will also help locate treatment options in your area by city or zipcode. The site “collects information on thousands of state-licensed providers who specialize in treating substance use disorders, addiction, and mental illness.” The resource can help you learn about addition, mental health, health care payment options and assistance, and treatment options.
National Helpline by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: this hotline provides “free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.” The hotline can be reached at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Mental Health America self-help materials: if you are feeling like you may need mental health assistance, Mental Health America has dedicated a site full of resources ranging from self-help to self-screenings, finding health care providers, tips for starting conversations about mental health, exercises for combating negative thoughts, finding support groups and so much more.
Crisis assistance by Mental Health America: if you are in crisis, Mental Health America has resources that can help you. You can call “1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, text MHA to 741741, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.” You can find a local MHA affiliate who can provide services.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: “The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.” The hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.
How can I help those who may be struggling with mental health?
This can be a sensitive topic, but there are ways to help those who you may recognize as struggling with their mental health.
According to Mental Health America, “If the person you care about is in crisis, please encourage them to seek help immediately. Direct them to call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, text MHA To 741741, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.”
Mental Health America has a full page of ways you can help those who may be struggling, and you can access those resources here.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are ways you can also speak up to help members minority communities find access to the care they need:
- Encourage mental health organizations to include minorities on staff or boards of directors.
- Write, call or talk to legislators—both local and federal—to support efforts to improve access to and the quality of mental health services in your area.
- Be a spokesperson when there is an opportunity to speak out on behalf of minority mental health.
- Share information you’ve learned about accessing quality care to others.
- Try to be more open and understanding towards what minority communities might be experiencing that you might not.