July is Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month, also known as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The month, much like its namesake, is dedicated to highlighting and improving the mental health of diverse communities. But in order to improve mental health in the BIPOC community, we first have to seek to understand and respect the unique stressors and barriers they live with, which impact their access to mental health services.
From an early age, many members of the BIPOC community are exposed to experiences and environments which are not physically or psychologically safe for them. These experiences can lead to a feeling of always needing to be on alert. As Ruth Simmons, former Brown University President, explained in a Washington Post article, individuals who are the target of racist actions “must move through the world limited by sometimes invisible or unpredictable restrictions on their movements, their behavior and their words... Determining how to live life openly and productively in the face of such attacks on one’s existence is a lifelong task.”
Over time, these “invisible restrictions” brought on by racist systems can evoke a fight, flight or freeze response. Journalist and author Nathan McCall describes it as living in “battle mode.” Daily occurrences of racism – and the resulting trauma – can make it difficult to break out of that “battle mode.” That’s where mental health treatment can help. But it can sometimes feel out of reach.
Millions of individuals in the BIPOC community struggle with their mental health, but they are less likely to seek out or engage in mental health services than their white counterparts. Stigma is one of the underlying reasons for this. While the BIPOC community is incredibly resilient, that resilient mindset can make it difficult to reach out for help when needed. But knowing your limits is a sign of strength, not weakness.
We know that being able to seek treatment from a provider who looks like you and has similar life experiences is important for the BIPOC community. This is why Wyandot BHN puts an emphasis on recruiting and hiring a diverse staff that reflects the diversity of our community. We also need to be encouraging more people in BIPOC communities to enter the mental health field.
As a community mental health center, we want to make it okay for members of the BIPOC community to seek out support. The BIPOC community deserves to be able to access mental health treatment without feelings of shame or stigma. We need to be able to meet people where they are, recognize the need for vigilance, but also give them the tools they need to live the life they deserve.