We can all unite in agreement that we are enduring an unprecedented time, full of challenges that are putting significant strain on our mental resilience. Between the global pandemic, the stress on front line health care workers, social upheavals, and the economic and employment consequences, it is a time of loss, anxiety, fear, anger, and discomfort for many. No matter who you are, your mental health is important. It is specifically important, however, that we understand the unique challenges and disparities that Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) face in the mental health arena.
According to a 2015 federal report by the American Psychiatric Association, among people experiencing mental illness, 48% of white people received mental healthcare, whereas only 31% of both Black and Hispanic people and 22% of Asians did. Among the economic and financial barriers, such as being under-insured, there can be a lack of cultural and religious/spiritual competency among mental health care professionals. There is little training in how to deal with the current mental health consequences of being a person of color in society, or the historical and intergenerational trauma being reactivated during this time. BIPOC may be reluctant to seek mental health care due to stigma in the community, as well as justified mistrust of the medical system due to historical events and implicit bias.
Mental Health Counselor and Certified Clinical Trauma Professional Tamara Nelson, interviewed by Talia Blake, explains that experiences of racial trauma can result in a wide array of responses:
…examples of those experiences could be discrimination, prejudice, acts of violence, (and) microaggressions. It’s also vicarious. Viewing videos online of police brutality against black people, that can also trigger traumatic responses. What that can look like, in terms of a traumatic response, could be feelings of anger, hopelessness, having a lot of anxiety. Maybe feeling very hyper vigilant in spaces where you don’t see people who look like you or there could be certain triggers that make you feel like you’re not safe as a black person. Feeling numb. A lot of my clients and a lot of my friends and even myself went through a stage of just not feeling anything. Not being able to concentrate, which I personally experienced, especially after the George Floyd video was released. I couldn’t focus on my work and a lot of students that I worked with were also experiencing that inability to concentrate.
So what can you do if you are a BIPOC experiencing strain on your mental health and/or an employer, health care worker, or first responder who needs to be able to offer help quickly? First of all, know that you are not alone. What you are experiencing is happening to people across the U.S. and around the world. Allow yourself to be uncertain, to be angry, to be frightened, or to be numb. If you are white, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know what to do or what to say. Be willing to learn, and actively seek out training.
And please, ask for help. We recommend these resources below:
- This comprehensive BIPOC Mental Health Resources Guide
- This list of BIPOC Mental Health Resources from Corporate Counseling Associates and NAMI
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) New Hampshire BIPOC Mental Health Resources
- TWLOHA’s List of BIPOC Mental Health Resources
As the Brick Foundation’s founder, C. Victor Brick puts it:
I believe that the racism my brother, John faced growing as an Asian-American immediately after World War II was one of the contributing causes of his mental illness. I faced some of this prejudice personally, but I had two older brothers to help protect me. As the oldest brother, John had no one to protect him. We believe, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
We hope you will join all of us at the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation in working toward a more just and equitable world, and in attending to the mental health of all.