Try These Four Ideas for Better Mental Wellness During BIPOC Mental Health Month
July is National BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month and coincides with the birth of our country. While we celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks and time with friends and family, it is also a time to bring awareness to the unique challenges racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding access to mental health care services.
Issues for BIPOC communities range from everyday stressors like microaggressions to COVID-19 induced national concerns around access to mental health services. This campaign also seeks to reduce the cultural stigma of seeking a mental health professional and increase awareness of mental health among racial and ethnic minority groups.
The earlier the signs of mental illness and services of a therapist are identified, the faster the road to recovery and mental wellness.
Mental Health Distress in BIPOC Communities
Most minority groups have similar rates of mental disorders, however non-whites experience more barriers to care and the consequences of mental illness may be more persistent.
Hispanics were found to be 50 percent less likely to have received mental health treatment as compared to non-Hispanic whites. Reports by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also show that minority youth and teenagers are at particular risk for mental distress. It found that Black teenage girls, grades 9-12, were 60 percent more likely to attempt suicide in 2019, than white teenage girls of the same age.
In the same CDC report, American Indian/Alaska Native teenage girls had a death rate that was five times higher than white teenage girls. Among Asian American teenagers suicide was the leading cause of death and Asian American teenage boys were 30 percent more likely to consider attempting suicide as compared to white teenage boys.
Everyday Stressors – Microaggressions
Beyond diagnosable mental illnesses, racial and ethnic minorities often face the emotional and mental challenges from microaggressions. These are intentional or unintentional everyday incidences of racism, homophobia, or sexism.
Other forms of microaggressions include mansplaining and can be a verbal insult or comment or simply a gesture or action. Additionally, people of color are often burdened with the responsibility of bringing microaggressions to light, which can be mentally and emotionally draining and at times can have a life-changing impact.
Racial stress can impair thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, so it is important to acknowledge their effects as well as seek help to mitigate their psychological impact. Many experts in micro-aggression suggest that since these incidences are observable, they can be managed by being assertive during face-to-face microaggressions.
Talking about the situation reduces stress and potentially prevents the incident from having a long-term health impact. A mental health provider with experience in microaggressions can help make these situations less traumatizing by providing strategies to manage racial stress and increasing competency and confidence in addressing the situation as it occurs.
Strategies for Mental Wellness
Create a Self-Care Plan:
The National Council for Mental Well-Being suggests compiling a self-care plan as an important way to protect your physical, mental and emotional health. Those who do are better able to adapt to changes, build strong relationships and protect themselves from racial stress. Basic elements of a self-care plan include setting aside time for activities that make you feel good, like reading a book, exercising, or spending time with friends and family. Another component to consider is your support system. Take time to think about who you can confide in with your experiences both positive and negative. Just knowing there are people in your corner can help boost confidence and resilience.
While we’ve often been told that money does not bring happiness, but is there something that does? Yes, research has shown that showing gratitude helps pave the road to happiness and mental wellness. This shift in focus helps to avoid negative and toxic feelings. The study also discovered that the positive feelings associated with expressing gratitude can have lasting effects and works even if that feeling is not communicated to the other person. Finally, the gratitude study concluded with a fMRI scan of participants, and those that expressed more gratitude showed more neural activity in their medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. In other words, being intentional with your gratitude creates the biggest mental health benefit of all.
Go on Vacation:
You don’t need to go on vacation, but studies have shown that anticipating something good in the future, can bring about positive mental health and wellbeing. That’s because, the anticipation of a long-awaited event, like a vacation after pandemic delays, releases dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a hormone and neurotransmitter that provides a pleasurable sensation in our brains and a dopamine imbalance, whether too much or too low is an indicator of physiological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, restless legs syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Anticipating positive events, like vacations, a new house or a dog, has shown to have lasting positive mental effects.
Speak to a Therapist:
Sometimes our best laid plans get derailed, and we need more help to get back on track. For more serious and recurring mental health setbacks, it may be time to speak to a professional mental health provider. While those in racial and ethnic minority communities might have experienced more challenges in receiving care, technology has made it easier than ever to access quality mental health care. Tele-mental health providers, like LifeStance, provide photos and professional biographies of their therapists so it is easier to find a culturally competent therapist with experience in racial stressors or trauma. Additionally, telehealth has the benefits of confidentiality, convenience and reliability that is essential for quality mental health care and positive outcomes.