Previously known as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, in July, we recognize and honor her fight for equitable mental health care – particularly for Black communities.
Why Focus on BIPOC Mental Health?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime but only about 43% of people in the U.S. experiencing mental health challenges receive the care they need.
When looking at mental health care access and race, white Americans are much more likely to receive treatment, with almost 50% of those in need receiving care. Conversely, the rate of accessing mental health care among BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities varies, but all remain under 35% of those individuals being treated.
BIPOC Mental Health Awareness acknowledges the unique mental health needs of marginalized communities of color, which is an important step in moving towards equitable, culturally responsive and affirming mental health care.
What prevents people from accessing mental health services?
Many factors play into why someone may not be able to access mental healthcare, but the most common barriers people experience include insurance issues, financial concerns and physical access.
Insurance issues refer to those without insurance coverage and those who are considered ‘underinsured’ and have insurance that does not adequately cover their healthcare needs. The rates of the under-and-uninsured are significantly higher in BIPOC communities.
In 2020, around 30 million Americans were uninsured, and about half of them were people of color. And according to the Commonwealth Fund, out of the 87 million uninsured Americans, almost 1 in 5 are Black.
Financial barriers individuals face in accessing mental healthcare include the affordability of services, especially for those under and uninsured. Even if one is insured, many therapists don’t accept insurance, or specific insurance plans do not cover therapy. These services are expensive when paying out of pocket, which isn’t feasible for the average person, especially when the cost of a single hour-long session can run anywhere from $100-$200.
When adding in race wage disparities, the financial barriers for BIPOC individuals become even greater. White American workers are paid an estimated $1,000 monthly more than their BIPOC counterparts.
Physical access is another common barrier to mental healthcare services. Physical access barriers include the distance of medical providers from an individual’s community, having the transportation needed to get there, the ability to get the time off of work, and any required childcare. These barriers are exceptionally present among BIPOC communities where minimal medical resources are available, a lack of affordable childcare, and a lack of employers who offer flexibility in the work schedule.
How does systemic racism and stigma impact BIPOC mental health care?
Racism is the discrimination of people based on race fueled by the racist belief that certain races are inferior or less valuable than others. Systemic racism refers to social structures, policies and institutions that oppress people of color.
For example, school expulsion and truancy policies are being enforced more severely in districts with many students of color. Individuals do not need to experience discrimination for it to impact their mental health directly.
For millions of Black Americans, the story of George Floyd created a collective trauma compounded by the replaying of the events on news outlets around the county. For BIPOC individuals, witnessing or hearing about racism and race-based violence negatively impacts their mental health.
The stigma around mental health is prevalent but is notably higher in BIPOC communities that have historically suffered traumatic harm from the medical system. This history of medical trauma has created distrust between these communities and the healthcare system resulting in problems being taken care of within the community without the intervention of a “larger” society.
Many people of color take pride in their cultural, racial and ethnic resilience and perseverance – and view mental health as a weakness. Additionally, religious affiliation also impacts the higher levels of mental health stigma in these communities because faith is seen as the solution.
Communities of color are much more likely to turn to community, spiritual and family support for mental health problems rather than medical care and therapeutic intervention.
How can I support BIPOC Mental Health?
First, educate yourself about intersectionality, systemic oppression and racism. The more you know how these systems of power work, the better we can work against them.
Second, check your bias! We all have them, and they can be either positive or negative. Do some self-reflection to unpack your assumptions, beliefs and stereotypes about BIPOC individuals.
Lastly, most therapists and mental health professionals are not individuals of color. This means that people of color are often left to choose from providers that do not look like them or come from their communities. This means that we need to be uplifting and supporting BIPOC mental health professionals and those who specialize in culturally competent care.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, reach out for help!
Take control of your health today by finding culturally competent healthcare providers near you.