How Mental Health Challenges Affect BIPOC Folks Differently

My name is Jeremiah, and I’ve been a Peer Mentor for The Nan Project for the past three months. When I’m not working for The Nan Project, I often volunteer for organizations that support and advocate for the health and wellness of LGBT youth. Through all the work I’ve done over the years and through my own personal experience as a biracial person, I’ve seen how disparities in psychiatric care for BIPOC individuals can have a major impact on their health and wellness. I believe it is important to talk about mental health and wellness from an intersectional lens, by keeping in mind that our current psychiatric care system is not equitable for everyone in our country. Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the interconnected nature of aspects of our identity such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. The way our racial identities intersect with our mental wellness, can greatly impact the care we receive. 

BIPOC (Black, Indigenous People of Color) individuals can face various barriers when trying to seek mental healthcare. One of these barriers can be their culture’s perception of mental health and asking for professional help. In various communities, therapy is seen as being “for crazy people only.” Some cultures view therapy as “airing out dirty laundry to a stranger” and expect people to “tough it out” as therapy can be seen by some as “a luxury for white people.” For example, when I was younger, I heard statements that echoed the ones I listed earlier, and was given the common message that therapy is “for crazy people.” The stigma I saw attached to going to therapy made me hesitant to try it out myself.

Two other factors that can influence someone’s ability to seek out care are both their income and health insurance status. A lack of income, health insurance, or both can be a huge barrier in receiving psychiatric care. Therapy sessions can range in price from anywhere from $65-$250 a session, even if someone is just paying a $10-$50 copay, this can be a financial burden. In addition to income, fear and mistrust of the mental healthcare system can be a barrier in receiving treatment. BIPOC individuals may not trust psychiatric care due to experiencing racism or discrimination by past medical providers. There is a shortage of BIPOC therapists. According to a study done in 2015 by the American Psychological Association, 86% of psychologists in the US were white, 5% were hispanic, 5% were asian, and 4% were black. Out of those 86% who are white, at least a sizable amount of these doctors lack cultural awareness, which can lead to issues such as communication barriers, racial profiling of patients, and a lack of trust between the doctor and the patient.

The shortage of BIPOC therapists and white therapists who are culturally aware leads to BIPOC individuals being less likely to seek out mental health services, or stopping mental health services early, and therefore less likely to receive the care that they need. A stressful care experience can often worsen someone’s mental health rather than helping it. If a patient is feeling misunderstood or experiences discrimination, this will only increase mental health struggles.

Professionals and patients alike have been organizing for decades to combat this issue, and have come up with a variety of resources for BIPOC individuals in need of psychiatric care. These services include directories with BIPOC Therapists who take insurance such as Therapy for Black Girls, Therapy for Black Men,, and the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. They can also look like phone hotlines such as the National Alliance for Hispanic Health and The Steve Fund. Communities have also come together through mutual funds to offset the costs of psychiatric care for one another. These resources have all improved BIPOC individuals’ access to quality care immensely. 

At The Nan Project, we also are making efforts to promote inclusive psychiatric care for BIPOC individuals. During student presentations, we highlight resources for BIPOC students and some of our Peer Mentors talk about their cultural identities and experiences with their race as it connects to their mental health. This helps to break the stigma that comes attached to struggling mental health as a BIPOC individual, especially for students raised to hide or be ashamed of their mental health struggles. I am thankful to The Nan Project for giving me a platform to share my story, and do my part to break the stigma surrounding talking about mental health. 

While there are systemic issues that can create barriers to BIPOC individuals receiving care, we as a community can step up to help those struggling around us. Promoting and donating to mutual aid funds as you can, examining and working through your individual prejudices, being a listening non judgemental ear to the BIPOC individuals in your life who are struggling, and sharing resources with people who would benefit from them are individual steps we can take to improve the circumstances for BIPOC individuals struggling with their mental health.

Check out these resources/ways you can help:

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