How Therapists Can Practice Minority Mental Health Awareness

Black person with aqua blouse speaks at seminar on diversity to group of seated individualsIn 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives declared July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in honor of the author, advocate, and co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles. In the years before she died of cancer in 2006, Campbell—whose family was affected by mental health issues—worked to destigmatize mental health challenges, particularly among people of color.

Minorities are less likely to receive help, and the care they do receive is often of lower quality. The reasons minorities often fail to receive adequate mental health care are manifold; stigma, cultural differences, economic disparities, and lack of access to qualified care are just a few. People who speak languages other than English are also less likely to receive treatment due to language barriers.

As mental health professionals, it is incumbent upon us to make this issue a priority in our own practices and the agencies where we work. While competence in diversity is one of the standards for CACREP-accredited programs, usually only one three-hour course is required for students to meet that standard. Quite frankly, that is not enough.

If we are to do more for minority communities, we must begin within. Here are some suggestions for making your practices and workplaces more intentionally multicultural:

  • Spend time educating yourself on multicultural and diversity issues nationally and locally. Read books about racism by authors such as Derald Sue, Michelle Alexander, and Tim Wise. Look for seminars on diversity and cultural competence and attend whenever possible.
  • Check your own unconscious biases. Harvard has a wonderful resource at Project Implicit that can help you identify your biases so you can begin to work on eliminating or mitigating them.
  • Make a conscious effort to reflect your community. Is your practice or agency diverse or are the majority of practitioners homogenous? Minorities are less likely to seek care in an environment where they don’t feel represented or where they believe clinicians cannot understand their unique needs. Do the work to make your environment more diverse—and not simply for diversity’s sake. Rather than bringing minorities onto your staff because it is encouraged, do so to genuinely empower and to make therapy more accessible to more people.
  • Actively engage with your community and with diverse communities. Make an effort to reach out beyond your comfort zone to engage with populations who may not normally come through your door.
  • If you use social media, make it a point to share facts about mental health awareness in a non-stigmatizing manner. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, offers some prewritten posts on its website that you can use.
  • Get involved with advocacy efforts in local and national politics. It doesn’t take much time to call your representatives and have your voice heard.
  • When you see something, say something. If you see racism, prejudice/discrimination, microaggressions, bias, or any other culturally insensitive behavior, speak up. Silence is violence.

The work of being a culturally aware and sensitive practitioner is ongoing. Given what we know about the disparity of mental health care for minorities, it is imperative we step up our efforts to create inclusive and safe places for ALL people experiencing mental health issues.


  1. Learn about minority mental health month. (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Minority mental health awareness month. (2017, July 7). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lisa M. Vallejos, PhD, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • phillip

    July 24th, 2017 at 10:36 AM

    In order to fully help to service these communities you must immerse yourself in the things that are important and true to them. This cannot be done through your own eyes but put yourself truly into their shoes and try to understand what it is to live as a minority in this country. When you are willing to fully embrace those issues and that culture it is then that you can begin to provide help and understanding in a positive and meaningful kind of way.
    Without that interest and immersion you will once again remain on the outside looking in

  • Lisa Vallejos

    July 25th, 2017 at 10:52 AM

    Yes! It requires depth of curiosity, understanding and humility.

  • Loren

    July 24th, 2017 at 2:41 PM

    It is not enough to always be the one doing all of the taking . There will be times when you will get so much more out of simply listening to what other people have to say.

    Listen to them long enough and you will definitely find that you will learn a great deal from them, things that are new and that are only going to benefit you in your practice as you continue to work with others on many of these same issues.

  • Lisa Vallejos

    July 25th, 2017 at 10:53 AM

    Absolutely! We have to be willing to sit down and listen to what is being said and to give space to growth and further learning.

  • cassidy

    July 25th, 2017 at 10:44 AM

    I think that there are probably large segments of the population who feel over looked and ignored.
    How about starting a conversation with these groups so that we have a better understanding of their concerns and proceed from there?

  • Lisa Vallejos

    July 25th, 2017 at 10:54 AM

    I’m not sure what large groups you’re referring to here, but in terms of minority mental health, there is a larger conversation going on. That’s why Minority Mental Health month came to pass, because as people listened, it became evident that the minority community is not being served as often or as well as ought to be happening.

  • Cassidy

    July 27th, 2017 at 10:31 AM

    I just meant that I think there are still large groups of people who feel like their health care needs are misunderstood and being ignored. Maybe they are maybe they aren’t, but perception is reality correct? And if they feel detached then obviously they feel that no one cares about their needs. I don’t believe that it is intentional on the part of the professional community as a whole… it’s just that for the most part the system hasn’t worked for them.

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