July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
Every day, millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. In many communities, these problems are increased by less access to care, cultural stigma and lower quality care. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. But, one’s cultural background or identity can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult. July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and Youth Villages Clinical Consultant Brittany Jones discusses the unique challenges facing minority groups when it comes to their mental health.
Why is mental health such a taboo subject among most minority groups?
There is a lot of stigma around mental health in many minority cultures and families, especially around how it is recognized or expressed. It is often under recognized because people have a belief that it doesn’t happen to them; if they are struggling, they should keep their struggles within their own families, or that they should stoically endure them rather than show weakness. Sometimes, mental health struggles are seen by minority groups as an “American thing.” For children in these cultures, it can be especially hard to express mental health needs because to parents or more culturally traditional relatives, it can be seen as assimilating.
Why are minority groups less likely to seek mental health treatment?
Minorities are often less likely to seek help for their mental health because of the stigma and misunderstanding but also because there is a lack of basic resources. Often, copayments or insurance coverage is seen as a luxury, as that money is needed for food, shelter or other bills. Alongside that, they may have a job where it’s not possible to routinely take time off for an appointment, or they’re actively putting their children’s needs first, leaving the adult’s own needs unmet. Another important factor is representation. When the time and finances are available, those who identify as minorities are less likely to find a provider who looks like them. While it’s not everything, it can make it that much more difficult to open up to someone who may not truly understand their perspective and position.
What are some barriers among minority groups to seeking mental health treatment?
The main barrier is the stigma which can make it harder to recognize when you need more help than family or church can provide and then the fear of whether or not the person you see will understand you. When families better begin to confront their own beliefs about mental health and how it should be expressed and addressed, they start to seek help. The acceptance of dealing with mental health is also a huge barrier as is access and affordability.
How can an adult refusing to address their own mental health affect their child?
Kids learn through watching others. When generation after generation internalizes mental health as something “not affecting them,” kids develop that same belief. Families pass down ineffective coping mechanisms, which in turn create larger mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. That does not mean that all mental health struggles in children originate from their parents, but when a parent is suffering from untreated mental health issues, it negatively impacts the physical and emotional stability of a child and can lead to feelings of hopelessness, anxiety and being overwhelmed.
How can parents take care of their own well-being and mental health so they’re in the best position to help their kids?
Talk about it. When you talk about how you struggle and learn to deal with negative or difficult emotions and circumstances in healthy ways, kids also develop those resiliency skills and talk about their own struggles. Parents can start by building their social supports to include family, friends, groups and mental health professionals, so all their needs are met.
What are the unique challenges facing minority children when it comes to mental health?
Minority children have to deal with others having a stigma or perception of what mental health looks like for minorities. Often, they can have the same behaviors as a white child but receive a punishment rather than resources for mental health help. The blame gets placed on them or their parents. They also suffer from others downplaying the pervasiveness and severity of mental health instead of really digging into how to help them through a situation. The challenge for minority children is recognizing the systematic approach needed to address mental health without further stigmatizing needing help.
How does Youth Villages work with families to help address the issues and challenges faced by minority populations?
We have a very diverse staff, from frontline employees to leadership, and that’s key to ensuring culturally informed policies and care for our families. We embrace different perspectives and get creative with our interventions for families to fit their needs. We have a belief within Youth Villages that families know themselves best and that we should always work collaboratively to drive treatment. We do take a systems approach to care and treatment. We look at how all of them (community, family, schools, peers, etc.) have contributed to a problem within a family and simultaneously address them. We work within their community and social supports to empower families rather than prescribe treatment.
Get help if needed.
The resources below can help those who identify as a minority with their mental health needs. You can also contact your insurance carrier for a list of therapists and licensed mental health providers in your area who are covered by your plan.
National Alliance on Mental Health
Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Minority Health
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July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month