More than 52 million American adults—or one in five—live with a mental health issue. Despite its prevalence, we hold an unhealthy stigma of mental illness. As a result, some individuals who live with mental health issues experience challenges accessing quality care and coverage, a challenge that can be exacerbated by their backgrounds and identities. This needs to change.
Reducing the stigma associated with mental illness is central to Health Affiliates Maine’s vision. By recognizing that we are all affected by mental health and substance issues, we reduce the stigma associated with accessing care, and in doing so, we increase the opportunity for everyone to participate in their own journey to wellness.
That’s why we’re proud to raise awareness for the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July. “Together for Mental Health,” we proudly stand up for a shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness—no matter their class, culture, ethnicity, or identity—can get the appropriate, quality care and support they need to live healthy lives.
“We need a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted toward African Americans…It’s not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible.” –Bebe Moore Campbell, 2005
Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness. Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender, class, sexual orientation, or any other elements of our identity. While BIPOC have rates of mental health disorders similar to white people, people in the BIPOC community are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to quality healthcare and cultural stigma, according to US News.
Of the 52 million+ Americans who live with a mental health condition, nearly 5 million are black people—and yet only 33% of those seek appropriate treatment, such as regularly meeting with a mental health professional, compared to nearly half of white people. As writer and policy analyst Brakeyshia R. Samms describes, there are many factors that contribute to whether or not a person with a mental illness receives treatment, including under/misdiagnosis, lack of access to quality care, and community stigma. We all experience these factors, but some communities experience them to a disproportionate degree—and suffer as a result. Bebe Moore Campbell summarized the issue: “No one wants to say, ‘I’m not in control of my mind.’ But people of color really don’t want to say it because we already feel stigmatized by virtue of skin color or eye shape or accent, and we don’t want any more reasons for anyone to say, ‘You’re not good enough.’”
How to Help
Samms suggests four activities we can all engage in to take action against the stigma around mental illness: gather information to counter “negative preconceived notions,” speak up, remain open, and believe people. “Stigma stems from a lack of knowledge,” Samms writes, “and the best way to fight a gap in information is by educating others in our community.” To this end, understanding and then communicating the complex issues at play helps spread acceptance and inclusivity, which in turn fights the inequities and stigma we have developed and now need to unlearn as a culture.
Sources: www.nimh.nih.gov, nami.org, rtor.org, mhanational.org