July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness month. A month dedicated to bringing the idea of mental health importance and focus to the forefront of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) and non-BIPOC alike. However, how many of us even knew that this was a thing? As a newer mental health professional, I can admit that I did not know. I have always seen July as the start of summer, and the only day being acknowledged is July 4th, Independence Day. I think it says a lot for a BIPOC-identified therapist to acknowledge in my field of work, where mental health awareness is, or at least, always should be at the forefront, I had no clue. This brings me to my point; as BIPOC, mental health in our communities is often not at the forefront of our minds if it is even discussed.
Why it is an important month?
The reason that it is important to have a month dedicated to awareness for BIPOC, is for us to address the stigma we have surrounding mental health, and there is a huge stigma that surrounds mental health in BIPOC communities. It usually sounds like “mental health it not a real thing,” or “you are being too sensitive,” or “other people have it worse,” or “come on now you need to be stronger,” and various other words and phrases that pretty much sum up that BIPOC mental health is not a real or valid concern.
Origins of the stigma
From the idea of the strong black woman to the idea of the machismo Latino male, to the concept of the respectful well-mannered Asian woman, and everything in between, all of these “ideas,” stereotypes, and cultural norms effect BIPOCs every day regarding their mental health. These ideas and expectations are the reason the stigma exists. They serve as a foundation for the way in which we act, think, and cope, which in turn showcases how we approach and view our mental health.
My experience as the strong black woman
As I grew up in a Black American culture, I can only speak from my personal experience to describe what this everyday pressure of being this ideal strong black woman feels like. For me, it is this constant need and urge to do everything myself: be successful, manage through whatever feelings I have, and suck it up enough to be there for my family, friends, and anyone else that may need me. Can you imagine the stress from feeling like you must be there for EVERYONE? It’s a huge undertaking and it makes me feel so overwhelmed, yet addressing this would feel almost impossible because it would mean shifting priorities, and how can I do that if I am supposed to be there for everyone else?
The “BIPOC experience”
I bet if you ask around most BIPOC would agree they feel this sense of having to push through whatever circumstance in life no matter what they are feeling or whether they feel mentally okay to do so. Why? Because we aren’t taught our mental health should be a priority because we never had the time to think about it. Now that is not to say that all minority families are like that, but for the most part it is a familiar sentiment I have felt and had others express.
How the stigma plays out
The reason behind it? The crazy stigma that if we speak how we feel, if we acknowledge that life is hard, if we admit that “Hey I can’t be there emotionally for you right now because I am not even there for myself” means in some way we have lacked on our other priorities. Which to us, cannot happen, we are taught to be together, that’s how we get through trauma, life, and just everyday struggles. Therefore, we serve a purpose to our community and prioritizing our mental health can get in the way of that.
But here’s the true reality, us not discussing our mental health, is in my opinion, one of the main ways we are not able to get through trauma in an effective way, meaning in a way that we do not spread it around the community. If we never talk about our mental health, we never think about it, then we get stuck in this endless cycle of generational trauma that we do not know how to challenge and change. So, what does that mean for BIPOC?
Meaning and further exploration
More issues, more problems, and more trauma and experiences that we are told to just be resilient through because not enough people are saying “maybe you should talk about this.” Imagine, if BIPOCs were told by family members, friends, and other BIPOCs that it’s okay to talk about trauma, it’s okay to discuss your feelings, it’s okay to be vulnerable, and it is okay to go to therapy. Where do you think our communities would be in terms of healing? Would we continue to pass down generational trauma? Would stigma continue to exist in the mental health space for us? Would we learn it’s okay to take space and heal?
Where do we go from here?
As I leave you with those questions, I implore everyone reading this, BIPOC or not, to check in on your BIPOC friends, and invite them to a safe space of healing and conversation. If you are a BIPOC I challenge you to be more vulnerable and open and learn to work on yourself. Understand that we need to process, we need to talk, and we have every right to feel safe and feel as though our emotions and mental health are and can be a priority.
Our mental health is important, so help spread awareness and get connected with support. Happy National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month! May we learn to break through the stigma and come to a place of healing and learning.