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BIPOC Mental Health Month

In line with our ongoing commitment to anti-racism and serving all people in our community, we wanted to acknowledge BIPOC Mental Health Month in this week's blog and provide education and resources regarding BIPOC mental health.

"Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month" was the original designation for the month and named after Bebe Moore Campbell, a mental health advocate who worked to shed light on the barriers to mental health care in the Black community after struggling to get help and support for her own daughter's mental health illness. July has been referred to as "Minority Mental Health Awareness Month" in the past, but the term "minority" is beginning to be phased out. This resulted in the adoption of "BIPOC Mental Health Month" to more inclusively capture the unique experiences of Black, Indigenous People, and People of Color.


Racial Trauma

According to Mental Health America, racial trauma is experienced by individuals who have encountered racial or ethnic discrimination, bias, racism, and hate crimes. BIPOC are the most likely to experience racial trauma due to living in a society with systemic white supremacy. Enduring prolonged and recurring racial trauma can often cause symptoms such as depression, low self-esteem, physical reactions (i.e. insomnia, headaches, chest pains), and mentally compartmentalizing the traumatic event. Some individuals may even experience symptoms similar to PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Racial trauma takes many forms. Trauma from individual racism may result from a situation where racism is experienced directly by a person or group (i.e. being called a racial slur, physical violence, discrimination in the workplace, etc.), while trauma from systemic racism includes examples of living in an inherently racist system (i.e. redlining, or the systemic denial of mortgages to people of color, preventing them from buying homes in certain neighborhoods or obtaining loans). These are all examples of direct traumatic stressors because the individuals who experience them are immediately impacted, whether it's due to being on the receiving end of direct racist attacks, living in a society of systemic racism, and/or other microaggressions directed towards them.

Along with direct traumatic stressors, there are also vicarious and transmitted traumatic stressors, both of which can also have a negative effect on BIPOC's mental health. Reading the news or watching videos of police brutality against Black people is an example of vicarious trauma and can cause triggering reactions for the people who view them, especially for the Black community. Transmitted stressors include trauma that is passed down from one generation to the next; a prevalent example of this is the traumatic stress Black people face due to the enslavement of Africans in the U.S. and other countries. As a result, this collective trauma in the Black community makes them more vulnerable to developing mental health disorders.


Racism and Mental Health

BIPOC experience overt and traumatic racism in various forms far too often, and this has lead to mental health burdens that run far deeper than what others may face. In other words, "racism is a mental health issue because racism causes trauma." In addition to these hardships, racism can also be evident within the mental health field itself. Data shows that Black men are more likely to be misdiagnosed with Schizophrenia because clinicians tend to overlook symptoms of depression and instead focus on symptoms of psychosis. Black Americans with bipolar disorder are also often undiagnosed and untreated despite having the same rates of bipolar disorder as other American groups. Cultural barriers between clinicians and patients, mistrust of health professionals, the tendency to talk about physical instead of mental symptoms, stigma, and socioeconomic factors are just a few aspects that contribute to Black Americans not receiving help for mental illnesses.

Additionally, Native American communities have suicide rates that are 3.5 times higher than racial/ethnic groups with the lowest rates of suicide; this has been attributed to factors such as a lack of cultural training geographic barriers that prevent Native Americans from accessing appropriate mental health care.


Further readings

More information on the topics above can be found at the links below:

Mental Health Resources for BIPOC

Below are some resources tailored to BIPOC in particular: Mental Health America has developed a toolkit with various resources for many racial and ethnic groups, as well as samples of infographics that can be shared on social media. This link provides information on what clinical depression looks like in Black Americans, treatment options available and how to utilize them, and frequently asked questions about clinical depression. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has also compiled a list of services available to various racial and ethnic communities.

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