July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

By: Jonathan Block

While July may be most associated with Independence Day, it also happens to be National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. This provides an opportunity to focus on the mental health needs of those who identify as part of the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

These communities, like any other, are not immune from mental illness. Among Blacks and African Americans, 17% suffer from some type of mental illness. The figure for Latinx/Hispanic Americans, Asian American/Pacific Islanders and Native and Indigenous communities are, respectively, 15%, 13% and 23%, according to a 2017 report from the American Psychiatric Association. Yet, minorities are far less likely to seek mental health services. For example, in 2018, 58% of Black and African-American young adults ages 18 with a serious mental illness did not receive treatment, according to the CDC.

In addition, there are disparities in the mental health care received by minorities compared to others. For example, African-Americans, compared to the general population, are less likely to be offered medication or psychotherapy for a mental condition.

Because of encounters with racial bias, ethnic discrimination and hate crimes, many in the BIPOC community can experience racial trauma, also known as race-based traumatic stress, which are mental and emotional injuries resulting from these encounters. Over time, repeated incidents of race-based discrimination can lead to symptoms similar to those seen in those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as depression, anger, insomnia, recurring thoughts of an event and hypervigilance.

Unfortunately, anti-Asian racism has been on the rise due to the COVID-19 outbreak. A 2018 Pew Research Center survey found that almost 40% of Latinx people surveyed were attacked verbally for speaking Spanish, told to “go back to their countries,” call a racial slur or reported being treated unfairly. And historic racism, such as the history of slavery as well as systemic racism, such as the disproportionate number of Blacks in the prison population and even videos of violent police killings of African Americans, can lead to traumatic stressors. Collective trauma associated with systematic racism may increase mental health risks for BIPOC communities.

If you find yourself needing mental health treatment, seek it. SPH has a wellness counselor whom students can have individual sessions with by emailing sherry.adams@sph.cuny.edu or by phone at (646) 364-9526. The Center for Innovation in Mental Health has compiled a list of mental health resources for Black-identifying individuals and people of color. Also, Mental Health America has directories of therapists who specialize in treating members of BIPOC communities.