Mental health challenges aren’t limited to race, gender, age, or socio-economic challenges. But your background can restrict your access to proper mental health care. Seeing these challenges Bebe Moore Campbell, author and co-founder of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Urban Los Angeles, worked to destigmatize mental illness, mainly in the African American community. In May 2008, she found success when the US House of Representatives declared July Minority Mental Health Awareness month.
I haven’t seen much discussion on why this month is vital. I’ve also not celebrated it. As a recent Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate and soon-to-be LPC, I need to help develop spaces where people feel represented, seen, heard, or more understood when they can’t voice their concerns and fears. Not just in a therapeutic setting but in the open. So we can normalize mental health conversations that destroy the idea that you have to be strong and show no weakness, that we should only celebrate Asians who embody the Model Minority Myth, and just because it happens in everyone’s home, it’s OK.
The conversation around the importance of representation has come to the forefront in the last few years. As a Vietnamese American, I had no idea what this meant to me until I cried when I discovered we were getting our own Disney Princess, Raya. Everyone called her Southeast Asian, but Kelly Marie Tran is Vietnamese. Yes, I was a 39-year-old rushing to Target to get my first Vietnamese doll, because she was the first doll I owned that looked like me.
We have seen more Vietnamese people take the spotlight — Lana Candor in To All The Boys and Ali Wong, comedian, actress, and director. More recently, Jaylin “Jay Will” Williams joined the Oklahoma City Thunder, my hometown team! I sure did text my friends saying, “We are getting season tickets this year, right?” At least one game, lower bowl. And this morning, I read Lo Van Pham will be the NFL’s first Asian American official, who happens to be Vietnamese.
I didn’t always seek representation in this manner. I grew up with my white dad in his white family. I grew up believing I was half white. That all changed, thanks to 23 and Me. Discovering something about myself changed who I was. My body was in shock. I couldn’t sleep. My dreams of having an Asian child with red hair died. All the papers I wrote about the challenges of picking my father’s or my biological mother’s race meant that I was a fraud. I found myself in a place where I was alone with no one to talk to about it.
Representation in Minority Mental Health Matters
Though I tell my therapist everything, at least more than I tell anyone else, I am not sure it hits the same way it would if I were telling an Asian therapist. And trust me, I have looked. I searched the internet and asked my professors and the people in my Clinicians of Color group. I heard of one in Tulsa, but I’m in Oklahoma City, an hour and a half away. I found another through an internet search. She works at an inpatient facility and doesn’t see private clients. I even messaged Asians for Mental Health, and the news was there are just no therapists in middle America who are Asian.
Not finding any Asian therapists made me distraught. What was I supposed to tell my friends battling their fears when their work was asking them to travel in the height of Asian Hate, or my friend who told me that they used to go in their room every day after school and try to stretch their eyes to be more round? Thankfully they found validation and love after they read Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho. They told me they were excited to raise a daughter in a world where they would be represented and feel beautiful and accepted.
The Conversation Must Continue
I can write something academic about why we must continue the conversation and normalize mental health for all groups, but I will let the statistics speak for themselves.
African Americans and Black
- In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death ages 15-24.
- They are more likely to seek mental health services outside of the healthcare system, possibly due to a lack of access to mental health services within the communities.
- Prefer providers who have similar life experiences.
- Because less than 2% of American Psychological Association members are Black or African American, some may worry that mental health care practitioners aren’t culturally competent enough to treat their specific issues.
- In 2018, 16% (4.8 million) reported having a mental illness, and 22.4% of those (1.1 million people) reported a serious mental illness over the past year.
- Black and African American people are more often diagnosed with schizophrenia and less often diagnosed with mood disorders compared to white people with the same symptoms. Additionally, they are offered medication or therapy at lower rates than the general population.
American Indians and Alaska Native
- In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death ages 10-34.
- 75% of all mortality for American Indian/Alaska Natives in their 20s is violent death, unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide.
- Are 2.5 times more likely to report experiencing serious psychological distress than the general population over a month’s time.
- Access is limited to most Indian clinics and hospitals is located on reservations, yet the majority live outside of tribal areas.
- In 2019, suicide was the leading cause of death ages 15-24.
- Southeast Asian refugees (Vietnamese fall in this category) are at a higher risk of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
- Cultural values impact Asian-American women’s sense of control over their life decisions. Their inability to meet biased and unrealistic standards set by families and society contributes to low self-esteem among Asian-American women.
- Have learned to believe they must maintain silence on the subject.
- The least likely racial group to seek mental health services.
Latinx and Hispanic Americans
- In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death ages 15-34.
- They are more likely to seek mental health services outside the healthcare system, possibly due to a lack of access to mental health services within the communities.
- With a shortage of bilingual or Spanish-speaking mental health professionals, poor communication with health care providers is an issue.
- Prefers providers who have similar life experiences.
- Religion can be a protective factor for mental health. However, it may contribute to the stigma against mental illness and treatment. Therefore working with religious institutions to help encourage good mental health and treatment-seeking is important.
Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders
- In 2019, suicide was the leading cause of death ages 15-24
- Statistics for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders are limited.
This article doesn’t cover all diverse populations, including but not limited to gender and sexual minorities, who may lack access to quality mental health services.
We Must Record History
As I mentioned, I live in Oklahoma City. What most people don’t know is that Oklahoma City has one of the largest Vietnamese populations per capita in the United States. People often ask why that is. For a long time, I didn’t know. But as I sit waiting in my favorite locally-owned businesses, I get to know the shop owners, service providers, customers, etc. They tell me their stories about living through the Vietnam War, being refugees, and being adopted or moving with their American spouses. The younger ones tell me what they know about their parents or grandparents and the challenges they face.
I don’t just ask these questions to my Vietnamese friends. I ask all my friends or anyone who will share their stories. I have found that many minorities in the US are just one to three generations from wars, massacres, lynchings, or even still experiencing atrocities most would like to believe only occur in movies. These traumas affect our ancestors, and they change us. Our DNA changes, affecting generations to come.
See and Be Seen
When I was younger, we would go to places you wanted to see people and be seen. That does not stop when you are a minority mental health professional. Claim and protect your free profile on All Counseling to be seen in our directory of over 90,000 therapists and counselors and to see the clients who need you.
American Psychiatric Association. Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations. Psychiatry.org, American Psychiatric Association, 2017, www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/mental-health-facts. Accessed 22 July 2022.
BIPOC Mental Health. Mental Health America, www.mhanational.org/bipoc-mental-health. Accessed 26 July 2022.
HHS Office of Minority Health – National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Office of Minority Health, minorityhealth.hhs.gov/minority-mental-health/health-disparities/. Accessed 22 July 2022.
Learn about Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. Www.nami.org, National Alliance on Mental Health, www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Bebe-Moore-Campbell-National-Minority-Mental-Health-Awareness-Month/Learn-About-Bebe-Moore-Campbell-National-Minority-Mental-Health-Awareness-Month. Accessed 22 July 2022.
Racial Disparities in Diagnosis and Treatment of Major Depression. www.bcbs.com, Blue Cross Blue Shield, 31 May 2022, www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america/reports/racial-disparities-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-major-depression. Accessed 22 July 2022.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association. Racial/Ethnic Differences in Mental Health Service Use Among Adults. Feb. 2015, www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/MHServicesUseAmongAdults/MHServicesUseAmongAdults.pdf. Accessed 22 July 2022.