July is National Minority Health Month, also known as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Awareness Month. The US House of Representatives proclaimed July as this special month in 2008, aiming to improve access to mental health treatment and services through increased public awareness. Historically, racism has shown up in the history of mental health diagnoses and to this day, racial biases exist in current diagnosis (and treatment) practices for mental health conditions.
Racism in Mental Health Diagnoses in History
Drapetomania, coined in 1851, described the desire of slaves to run away as a ‘mental disorder.’ “The cause, in the most of cases, that induces a negro to run away from service, is as much a disease of the mind as any other species of mental alienation, and much more curable.” The recommended intervention? “Beating the devil out of them for preventative measure” and “amputation of the toes is also suggested.” Another diagnosis coined by Louisiana physician Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright was Dysaethesia Aethiopica, the apparent lack of work ethic exhibited by slaves. The diagnosable symptoms included disobedience, insolence, refusing to work and physical lesions.
Racism In Mental Health Services
When treating Black/African American clients, clinicians tend to overemphasize the relevance of psychotic symptoms and overlook symptoms of major depression compared to when they are treating clients with other racial or ethnic backgrounds. For this reason, Black men, in particular, are greatly over-diagnosed with schizophrenia—they are four times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than their white male counterparts. Furthermore, Black people, in general, are significantly more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia alone when a mood disorder is also present than white people. Schizophrenia is a disorder that (by definition) must be diagnosed by exclusion, meaning that the symptoms of it can’t be explained by another psychiatric disorder (like a mood disorder). Therefore, the fact that Black people end up with schizophrenia diagnoses without a mood disorder diagnosis despite the clinical presence of a mood disorder means that these symptoms are being ignored, and explains in large part why the diagnosis rate of schizophrenia is so much higher in Black populations than white.
BIPOC youth with behavioral and mental health conditions are more likely to be directed to the juvenile justice system than to specialty care institutions compared to non-Latinx white youth. This is likely because BIPOC youth are much more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system as a result of higher rates of harsh disciplinary suspension and expulsion practices against BIPOC youth in schools compared to white youth.
COVID-19 and Minorities
“The COVID-pandemic has spared no one, and now we’re facing a second public health crisis – a mental health and substance use crisis – and the impact on Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and LGBTQ+ individuals represents an immediate concern,” National Council President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia said. “Eliminating barriers to access for mental health and substance use treatment will help reverse long-standing inequities and improve wellbeing among people of color and the LGBTQ+ communities.” Many barriers to access prevent people from seeking treatment, and almost half (47%) of all adults surveyed agreed that the cost of help/treatment is an obstacle in seeking treatment for their mental health.
What can you do to help?
The 2021 theme for BIPOC Mental Health Month is Strength in Communities. Community care is the different ways that communities of color provide support for each other during difficult times. Mutual aid, peer support, and healing circles are an integral part of the strength in communities. Following the BLM protests, we saw a surge in communities willing to help spread awareness about the struggles of black Americans as well as support for Black-Owned Businesses. Educating yourself on intergenerational trauma, systematic racism, and discrimination faced by minorities is a great way to support your peers in their healing journey. If you haven’t already, check out our previous blog post on dismantling racism.
Understanding the context that young people of color are statistically more likely to have negative health, academic and economic outcomes, CORRAL bears the same responsibility to heal the trauma our girls have experienced due to systemic racism just as much as more commonly understood forms of trauma ie. physical or emotional abuse. By supporting our mission and our girls, you’re helping to provide our girls, many of whom are marginalized minorities, with access to opportunities and support needed for brighter futures.