Every year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. But background and identity can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult because mental health doesn’t discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity.
With that in mind Monterey private nonprofit organization Interim Inc. is encouraging improvements in the country’s mental health system, especially when it comes to marginalized communities, and raising awareness of the issue by supporting July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which was established in 2008 to start changing this.
Interim is the only agency in Monterey County dedicated to supporting adults with mental illness by providing affordable housing, residential treatment, social rehabilitation services, homeless outreach and support, family outreach, and supported education and employment services.
In May of 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives announced July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Maryland) and cosponsored by a large bipartisan group to achieve two goals:
- Improve access to mental health treatment and services and
- Promote public awareness of mental illness
When trying to access treatment, marginalized communities have to contend with such issues as:
- Barriers to access to treatment
- Lack of cultural competence
- Racism, bias and discrimination in treatment settings
- Lower-quality care
- Lower likelihood of health insurance or adequate coverage
- The high level of mental health stigma in minority populations
- Belief that treatment will not help
These are all in addition to the usual roadblocks.
“Many cultures also view mental health treatment as a luxury, considering symptoms a ‘phase’ that will eventually pass,” writes Laura Greenstein, communications coordinator at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). “These harmful perceptions of mental illness can further isolate individuals who desperately need help.
“We can all help ignite change against these disparities and fight stigma this Minority Mental Health Awareness Month,” she adds. “It simply starts with learning more about mental health and informing your community.”
Some of the ways an individual can get involved and help change the system according to Greenstein include:
- Consider Giving A Presentation
The more we talk about mental illness, the more normalized it will become.
- Emphasize Treatment
Make sure to stress the importance of a culturally competent provider. These mental health professionals, such as the services offered by Interim, integrate your beliefs and values into treatment.
- Share Your Story
When a person experiences symptoms of mental illness, one of the most helpful and comforting feelings is knowing that they’re not alone. It can be incredibly reassuring to know in this moment right now, someone else is going through similar struggles as you are—regardless of where they are, who they are, or how they identify.
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness and stop stigma in diverse communities. It’s time to improve the harsh realities minority communities face when it comes to mental illness treatment. In fact, it’s long overdue.
About Bebe Moore Campbell
Campbell was an author, advocate, co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles and national spokesperson, who passed away in November 2006.
She received NAMI’s 2003 Outstanding Media Award for Literature. Campbell advocated for mental health education and support among individuals of diverse communities.
In 2005, inspired by Campbell’s charge to end stigma and provide mental health information, longtime friend Linda Wharton-Boyd suggested dedicating a month to the effort.
The duo got to work, outlining the concept of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and what it would entail. With the support of the D.C. Department of Mental Health and then-mayor Anthony Williams, they held a news conference in Southeast D.C., where they encouraged residents to get mental health checkups.
Support continued to build as Campbell and Wharton-Boyd held book signings, spoke in churches and created a National Minority Mental Health Taskforce of friends and allies. However, the effort came to a halt when Campbell became too ill to continue.
When Campbell lost her battle to cancer, Wharton-Boyd, friends, family and allied advocates reignited their cause, inspired by the passion of the life of an extraordinary woman.
The group researched and obtained the support of Representatives Albert Wynn (D-Maryland) and Diane Watson (D-California), who co-signed legislation to create an official minority mental health awareness month.