July is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental Health Month. Systemic racism exists in mental health care, and Ayisha explains why that is important.
Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.
These three names have been all over the news over the past few months. We’ve been having more conversations as a country around police brutality, systemic racism, and how these concepts affect Black people specifically. These topics + COVID disproportionately affecting Black (and Latinx) populations has caused major strife in our community.
As we start and continue to have conversations about how systemic racism impacts Black people, it’s important we include mental health in that conversation. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, Black Americans are 10% more likely to experience serious psychological distress. To add to this, many Black Americans do not have access to healthcare, yet alone mental healthcare, and this contributes to worse mental health outcomes.
There is a severe shortage of psychiatrists in our country, and an even higher demand for psychiatrists of color, specifically Black psychiatrists. The lack of Black mental health professionals also plays a role in why Black people have poor mental health outcomes. One of the biggest issues we talk about in medicine is the implicit (and explicit) bias in many healthcare providers and how that causes racial disparities in all aspects of health care, including mental health.
As a Black female medical student, the racial disparities in medicine is one of the many reasons I decided I wanted to become a doctor. Racial disparities in medicine + my marked interest in mental health/stigma surrounding made me realize I was interested in becoming a psychiatrist. Studies have shown that POC patients have better clinical outcomes when they see POC doctors and that includes psychiatry. From personal experience, I know having a mental health professional who looks like you makes it substantially easier to share information about yourself. You don’t have to worry as much about being stereotyped or if they are really listening to you. There are certain things you don’t have to explain because the professional just gets it. It’s freeing. I want to advocate for my patients’ mental health and well-being and I really just want to be in the community and give as much help, support, and whatever else is needed to the people who need it the most.
Before I, hopefully, become a psychiatrist, I can use my knowledge of great organizations around the country that are focused on Black mental health support and share that with others! Here are a few resources:
July is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental Health Month and it is more relevant than ever. We need to diversify the mental health field, make sure mental health professionals learn about cultural competency throughout their careers (it’s a lifelong process!), educate lower income and minority communities about the signs of mental health conditions and really emphasize that it is okay to ask for help. This post is just a small primer on how systemic racism impacts Black mental health care, but there are other topics to dig deeper into about Black mental health regarding incarceration, faith and spirituality, shame/weakness, Black masculinity, LGBTQ+, and so much more. I hope you continue to be curious and learn and discuss these topics with friends, family, and peers. BIPOC deserve to have culturally competent mental health care that can genuinely change their lives for the better and I hope changes happen sooner rather than later.