A Statement on Bipoc Mental Health Month From Jefferson Center CEO, Kiara Kuenzler
At Jefferson Center, we are always working to connect more closely with our communities and make access to mental health resources a reality for everyone, by addressing the unique barriers and needs of the diverse communities we serve. This July, we’re continuing to work toward health equity by celebrating Black, Indigenous & People of Color (#BIPOC) Mental Health Month.
For too long, black, brown, indigenous and other people of color have feared that their voices will not be heard, that they will be silenced, or that their lives and the lives of their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters are not protected or even valued. When a person of color risks being vulnerable enough to share their story, to ask for help, to seek resources, they should not fear that their bodies will not be cared for, that their lives are less important, and their mental health needs will go unnoticed, untreated, or be exaggerated or pathologized.
Traditional systems of care in the US often overlook or pathologize the experiences of BIPOC populations, making it difficult to seek mental health care. The Western medical model of care focuses on diagnosis and the management of symptoms presented in the disease. This model has been helpful for a number of reasons, including establishing mental health parity legislation, developing many evidence-based treatments and therapies for mental health conditions, and reducing stigma surrounding mental illness in Western cultures. However, the model’s domination in the mental health field in the U.S. has become a major issue for BIPOC and other marginalized communities. Oftentimes, it isn’t culturally relevant and inclusive, and neglects the unique needs, experiences, perspectives, and cultural and community-based practices of BIPOC communities.
Here are just a few of the challenges:
- Medical model diagnostic procedures are not always culturally competent and therefore cannot provide a complete and accurate diagnosis.
- Language differences between patient and provider, stigma of mental illness among BIPOC, and cultural presentation of symptoms are some of the many barriers to arriving at an accurate and complete diagnosis.
- Even if someone is able to receive a complete and accurate diagnosis, the medical model tends to have a narrow view of what practices are acceptable to treat these diagnoses, which might not work for everyone, especially those in marginalized communities. This can lead to disillusionment or even dropping treatment completely.
- Fear and mistrust of the health care system, based on generations of atrocities committed in the name of science or healthcare, such as forced sterilization and horrific experimentation, often prevents BIPOC and other marginalized identities from seeking care.
- The impact of racism and intergenerational trauma on the mental health of BIPOC is not adequately incorporated and addressed.
We, in the mental health care system, continue to struggle our way out of systemic racism and discrimination practices that have been entrenched throughout history. The way we talk about and experience mental health is uniquely shaped by our racial/ethnic backgrounds and cultural experiences. It’s imperative that we look at these systems and ask how we can break down barriers, co-create systems that promote safety and trust, and better meet the needs of our community. We also need to take action, with our community partners, to advocate for accessibility and equitable health outcomes in other areas of health care as well.
For BIPOC Mental Health Month this year, we’re highlighting the theme of Strength in Communities to showcase mental health supports created by BIPOC, for BIPOC. Specifically, Mental Health America is sharing information and resources about community care, self-directed care, and culturally-based practices, which are all valid and valuable choices people can make for their mental health.
Community Care is an approach of individuals thinking of their well-being as an extension of the community they belong to. It focuses on connections, intentional actions, and efforts to mobilize, and helps individuals find belonging and support in a welcoming environment. Additionally, it responds to inequities in existing systems by creating new structures to bridge gaps.
Culturally-Based Practices are customs, behaviors and values passed down through generations that function as support systems. Many times, they’ve been erased or hidden away to keep people safe and protected. By learning about and embracing culturally-based practices, individuals and communities can begin the process of understanding the impacts of historical trauma, reclaiming the honor and pride of their ancestors, their historical knowledge, and the power that exists in connecting with one’s community through shared values, beliefs, and customs.
Self-Directed Care gives individuals seeking services the power to decide what works best for them and creates space in treatment for culturally relevant services and treating the whole person. It gives people autonomy and choice, helping to empower them through recovery.
The history of BIPOC individuals and communities in America and their contributions and value should be embraced and visible every day and woven meaningfully into how we create safe spaces of belonging that allow people of color to access care, resources and support that should be accessible to all. During this BIPOC mental health month, and every day of the year, we recognize that diversity is beautiful and powerful and the painful path that has gotten us here, paved with racism, oppression, systemic and institutional practices of prejudice, bias and racism we are still fighting to dismantle.
It is our policy and our mission to be inclusive and mindful of the diversity of everyone who comes through our doors and this work continues every day throughout the year. I encourage you to visit Mental Health America to learn more about Strengths in Communities and how you can support the work of building a community where mental health matters and equitable care is accessible to all.