It is not news to anyone that the past year has been tough on everyone. Not only has the pandemic taken a toll on many people’s mental and physical health, but the racial reckoning that our country faced - and continues to face - in the wake of the passings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Andre Hill and too many others, has particularly affected Black and Indigenous communities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey
, the week after the video of Floyd’s killing became public, the percentage of African Americans with clinical signs of anxiety or depression rose from 36% to 41%.
2020 highlighted the mental health impact that racism has on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). As July is BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, it is important to understand that race, background and identity make access to mental health treatment much more difficult.
Formally recognized in June 2008, Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month
was created to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face in regard to mental illness in the U.S. Campbell, an American author, journalist, teacher and mental health advocate worked relentlessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities. To continue the visionary work of Campbell, each year Mental Health America (MHA) develops a public education campaign dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of BIPOC.
While this month gives us an opportunity to focus on the mental health needs of this community, every day, People of Color are subjected to racism, through racial profiling, microaggressions and more. In addition, Black and Brown people are holding onto generational trauma. As just one example, Black people were still being lynched post-slavery. One of the last highly publicized lynchings in America happened on Aug. 7, 1930, when a mob of between 10,000-15,000 white people abducted three young Black men from a jail in Marion, Indiana. These horrific crimes are the trauma that this community continues to hold onto and feel the impacts of today.
Bias in the Healthcare System
The daily racism that BIPOC face not only takes a massive toll on mental health but also has a physical effect on the body, which can even lead to heart disease
. However, BIPOC are treated differently when it comes to mental health, encountering systemic barriers, misdiagnoses and inappropriate consequences for behaviors related to mental health conditions, all of which prevent them from receiving the care they need.
In a race-conscious society, many BIPOC tend to feel stigma a bit more keenly. Because of this, some do not want to be associated with having another "defect." For those who are Black, Brown, trans, female, LGBTQ, etc., it has been baked into our society that these are defects working against us. This is even more so the case when there is an intersection of any of these, such a person who is both Black and LGBTQ. Openly admitting you have anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental health challenges, can be perceived as yet another defect. For this reason, BIPOC may be hesitant to come forward about mental health struggles because it feels like it will be another hoop or hurdle to climb through.
In addition to stigma against BIPOC, African Americans also have a history of being misdiagnosed, which can be attributed to the lack of BIPOC representation in the mental healthcare system. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration
, only about 27% of geographic areas have enough mental health practitioners, creating a limited number of mental health providers that BIPOC can access.
How can we dismantle a system that lets down nearly 13% of Americans?
The first step is to work on confronting our own biases and dismantling the white supremacy ideology that has been ingrained in all of us, including Black and Brown people. It is important for every individual to look at various resources and take a deep dive into their own biases and the ways we may be upholding systemic racism, or what we are doing to actively dismantle it.
As I am an owner of a tech company that provides wellness resources, I think it is extremely important for others who own or operate a business that claims to be wellness-focused to take an in-depth look at the leadership team and its racial representation. It really matters who is at the top. If everyone is white, you are going to have blind spots. It is not that you are trying to exclude people on purpose, it will naturally happen because of the way our world is set up. Those in leadership positions in a wellness organization or any business that claims to be for all people must put BIPOC in seats at the top. Representation matters.
My personal definition of mindfulness is being in my body completely with whatever emotion is present, whether it is grief, pain or joy in my heart, body and soul. It is important to pause and be in tune with yourself as mindfulness ultimately comes down to the relationship you have with yourself. Practicing mindfulness is a journey home, back to ourselves.
In the Black and Brown community, we have to be smarter, do more and work harder than our white counterparts. We are conditioned to feel that if we work twice as hard, if not harder, that is the only way we will get ahead or even on an equal playing field. This hustle and grind culture has our community so busy that we do not have an opportunity to make time for ourselves. With the pandemic and many people working from home, it is even more difficult to carve out time to practice mindfulness every day.
Performing mindfulness is not as complicated or time-consuming as it might seem. It can be as simple as hitting pause, sitting down, closing your eyes, and just being present. Be still, pay attention to what is in this present moment.
Two-Minute Breathing Exercise
Here is a quick exercise, called Box Breathing, to try as you practice mindfulness. Close your eyes if you feel safe to do so, or set your gaze upon something in the space you are in.
BIWOC have faced exceptional challenges in the past year. During BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, practice mindfulness and what works for you. Do not let this month pass you by without taking stock of what you need to fill your cup.