July is Mental Health Awareness Month for BIPOC Communities 

Written by Lindsay Heneger

Originally known as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, BIPOC Mental Health Month is observed each year to recognize the nuanced needs of the Black, Indigenous, and people of color regarding mental health. The month was first recognized in 2008 and is the result of the work of advocate, author, and teacher Bebe Moore Campbell. Campbell was a driving force behind raising awareness about the face unique challenges that BIPOC communities that other populations may not encounter. 

However, July shouldn’t be the only time that BIPOC mental health awareness is a topic of conversation; this is especially true in the work environment. Taking steps year-round to ensure that your workplace fosters diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is essential to creating an environment where people from BIPOC communities feel safe and thrive. 

Facts About Mental Health in BIPOC Communities 

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in every five adults in the United States struggles with mental illness. With millions of people dealing with mental health challenges and so many options for care, it’s easy to assume that most people understand and receive treatment for it. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. 

In recent years, research displaying the blatant disparities that exist for BIPOC communities and mental health has become more widely known.  And although there are similar statistics for all communities regarding the prevalence of mental illness, BIPOC communities face several barriers that make it more difficult for them to get the resources they need for treatment. People of color are more likely to face discrimination in the healthcare sector, impacting the quality of care they receive – which has led many POC to distrust the healthcare system. Some more of these barriers are: 

  • Lack of insurance 
  • Lack of diverse mental health clinicians 
  • Language differences 

On top of the already existing challenges, the COVID-19 pandemic has not made solving the mental health crisis any easier. The virus has disproportionately affected communities of color for many reasons; a large reason is that POC are more likely to develop more serious chronic health conditions that put them at a higher risk. In 2020, the Center for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that rates of depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts/ideation increased in some BIPOC communities. 

The intersectionality of all these factors, both past and present, contribute to why recognizing and participating in BIPOC Mental Health Month are essential. But, what’s the next step?  

New Strategies to Implement in the Workplace 

BIPOC Mental Health Month is the perfect time to implement strategies that can benefit staff at all levels. Ask yourself – how can I create a better environment where my BIPOC employees feel empowered, safe, and respected?  

No matter what size of team you work with, there’s a good chance that someone you know is struggling with their mental health.

Have Open Conversations

A 2021 JobSage survey of over 2,000 U.S. workers found that only one out of every five workplace employees felt comfortable discussing mental health with their HR department. Why is this? 

All too often, talking about race, mental health, or other seemingly sensitive topics in the workplace is deemed taboo.  Not talking about mental health problems can make people feel even more isolated, depressed, or anxious than they already are. The more commonplace meaningful, open conversations about BIPOC mental health that are in the work environment, the better. 

On the other hand, in many cultures, discussing mental health challenges (or at all) is discouraged. Respecting peoples’ values and creating an environment where they feel comfortable speaking up about what they are experiencing is possible, but it requires a level of trust to be in place. Establish trust by showing employees that there are members of their team that they can turn to if they are struggling and that they aren’t alone. 

One way to do this is to ensure that your company values reflect the type of workplace culture. 

Acknowledge Privilege

One of the most important aspects of fostering a positive BIPOC mental health awareness environment is acknowledging privilege. To truly become a part of the change, people must recognize their privileges that are solely based on their racial or ethnic background. 

Part of acknowledging privilege includes educating yourself about the backgrounds of your staff. If you have members on your team from a culture you aren’t familiar with, take the time to read up on it. In addition, educate yourself and your team on issues that BIPOC communities face. How much about racial trauma, systemic racism, and other cultural stressors that BIPOC individuals deal with? If your answer is not much, that’s a sign that the education process needs to begin. 

Be ready to address biases and keep an open mind when learning about people from different backgrounds.

Use Inclusive Language

BIPOC people have been described as “marginalized people” or “minorities.” While these terms have been deemed acceptable in the past, they perpetuate the stigma of inferiority that many BIPOC communities face. Now, members of these communities and mental health professionals alike are advocating for the use of more person-first language. However, each community is different. Ask your staff from diverse backgrounds what they prefer to be referred to rather than assuming. 

Utilize Helpful Resources to Create a Better Workplace

Committing to creating a more equitable and inclusive workplace starts with providing employees with the things they need to do their job successfully. Here are a few tips about different mental health resources that can benefit both leadership and staff: 

  • Check in with your staff regularly to address any needs they have related to their mental health. 
  • Make information about mental health benefits easily accessible. If your employees don’t know what programs and resources they can take advantage of, they can’t use them. 
  • Evaluate your workplace policies and procedures to ensure they reflect a safe, welcoming culture for BIPOC individuals. 
  • Create regular correspondence with mental health information for your staff. 
  • Use programs that can help train leadership and staff on DEI and mental health issues, like Journey. 

Changing the Narrative About BIPOC Mental Health

Since the recognition of BIPOC Mental Health Month in 2008, a significant effort to increase awareness about mental health in communities of color. Despite this, the world still has a long way to go. Many systemic barriers that BIPOC communities face continue to exist inside and outside the workplace, making it hard to discuss mental health challenges. 

Change has to happen to address the growing mental health crisis – and it starts with you. At Journey, we believe in using preventative mental health solutions to foster a more favorable environment for employees. Start changing the narrative today about mental health in your workplace by learning more about how we can help.  

Mental Health & Wellbeing
Written by Lindsay Heneger

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