Broaden Mental Health Awareness
May is mental health awareness month. Yet, open discussion of mental health continues to be a social taboo, is seldom discussed in popular media, and is rarely made a priority. Further, the “self-care” movement, popularized by marginalized communities, has been commercialized and overlooks the original reasons for the movement - which was to bring awareness to the dire need for reflection, space and professional therapy among people who make justice and social reform their life’s work. The secrecy and insufficient treatment that plagues mental health issues is often worse for women in marginalized communities. While some of the disparity in mental health services results from the racist and sexist history of the fields of psychology and psychiatry (remember when drapetomania and hysteria were actual diagnoses?) most of the disparity results from intentional policies that caused inequitable access to mental health services across certain communities. This take action Tuesday calls on us all to do a few small things to broaden access to mental health services and increase mental health awareness.
1. Support the people and organizations already working to bring mental health and wellness to ALL people. Podcasts like The Friend Zone and Therapy for Black Girls, and organizations like The Trevor Project are increasing mental health awareness among people from marginalized groups who have been underserved by mainstream mental health services. Listen, share and support these efforts.
-- A special shoutout: In addition to hosting a popular podcast, Latinx Therapy, Adriana Alejandre maintains a website that includes a searchable directory of free-to-low-cost centers across the US that provide culturally competent mental services (this list includes many bilingual service providers). Help promote awareness of this resource!
2. Share your story if you feel comfortable, to help bring awareness to mental health and normalize conversations about mental health in your community. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is running the #whycare twitter campaign to de-stigmatize stories of mental illness and raise funds. NAMI advocates for people living with mental illness, educates the public on issues surrounding mental health and maintains various resources, including a helpline (1-800-950-NAMI) to offer support to folks requiring immediate assistance.
3. Check in with your village and encourage folks to speak with mental health professionals and councilors if needed. Many of the people in our lives belong to groups that may be at greater risk of being affected by mental illness AND have reduced access or opportunities to engage with mental health services. For example, the people who act as mothers in our lives are often expected to put everyone they care for first at the expense of their own wellness. This starts early, with the underdiagnosis of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety leaving many potential mothers at risk of suffering in silence. So, in addition to the “happy Mother’s day” texts you may have sent to celebrate the mothers in your lives on Sunday, encourage these individuals to make space for their mental wellness and remind them that help exists if needed.
-- Another special shoutout: Open Path is a psychotherapy collective of therapists across the country offering low cost services ($30-60 per session).
4. Contact your representatives and urge them to support the Families not Facilities Act. Early life stress has been shown to increase vulnerability to being affected by mental illness. The separation of children from their families and inhumane treatment of undocumented people by our federal institutions will have lasting negative impacts on the mental health of children in these communities. This Act aims to “reduce the ability of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to engage in inappropriate civil immigration enforcement actions that harm unaccompanied alien children and to ensure the safety and welfare of unaccompanied alien children.”
5. Contact your representatives again and demand their concern that black children account for ⅓ of elementary school suicides. The Congressional Black Caucus recently created a task force, chaired by Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, to increase awareness of this mental health emergency.