In 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.
- Learn about minority mental health month. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Minority-Mental-Health-Awareness-Month/Learn-About-Minority-Mental-Health-Month
- Minority mental health awareness month. (2017, July 7). Retrieved from https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=9447&lvl=2&lvlid=12
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