July is “Minority Mental Health Awareness Month,” an observance intended to shed light on mental health issues relevant to non-white populations. We’d like to leverage this observance as an opportunity to shed light on two things: the problematic word “minority” and the unique mental health issues that impact the Black, Indigineous, People of Color (BIPOC) community.
Let’s start with the word “minority.” According to Merriam-Webster, the word “minority” means “the smaller in number of two groups constituting a whole.” From a simple factual perspective, those who are not white constitute the majority of America’s population – not the minority. So, speaking of the BIPOC community as a minority group or group of minorities is inaccurate. However, the problems with the word “minority” extend beyond the label’s lack of accuracy.
More importantly, there is nothing “minor” about people who are not white. The word “minority” implies “lesser” and “other” in a way that diminishes and alienates those we ascribe the label upon. Because we apply this label exclusively to non-white individuals, the word “minority” centers whiteness as a false norm. It is time that Minority Mental Health Awareness Month shift its nomenclature to align with its cause of shining a light on BIPOC individuals. It is time to move on from outdated, insensitive and marginalizing labels. These labels work against the greater effort to raise awareness of mental health among BIPOC communities.
Setting aside the problematic nomenclature of this observance, the intent behind this July focus remains an important one. Mental Health issues impact BIPOC communities in unique ways. We’d like to share just a few for you to consider.
Racism and Mental Health
The impact of racism on mental health is real. Experiences in the face of racism can lead to trauma. In and of itself, trauma is a mental health concern; however, trauma also can spur other mental and physical health issues, including eating disorders. We must never minimize how racial trauma can impact one’s mental wellness. From subtle acts of racism to profound racial injustices, these traumas are painful in their own right and can compound upon one another over time. Research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown that Black adults are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult Whites. Additionally, the American Psychiatric Association reports that people who identify as being two or more races are most likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group. These facts are not coincidences.
Misdiagnosis or Lack of Diagnosis
BIPOC individuals who experience mental health concerns may also face misdiagnosis or go undiagnosed at a greater rate than white individuals. Diagnostic failures can stem from many sources, including but not limited to healthcare provider ignorance or insensitivity to cultural differences, language barriers, and cultural stigma associated with mental health issues. These are just three of many barriers that impact BIPOC communities on the path toward diagnosis and treatment in mental health settings. Beyond barriers to diagnosis, BIPOC individuals also experience misdiagnosis. For example, a recent Rutgers University study revealed that Black men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than White men with the same symptoms. Beyond failures to diagnose, racism and racial bias also impact diagnostic accuracy in mental health settings.
At Reasons, we believe that part of the challenging, important work of unwinding these problems begins by shedding light upon them. When we put a spotlight on the impact of our word choices, we choose our words more wisely. When we point to the facts that illustrate the connections between racism and mental health, we open our eyes to seeing the world differently. We examine our surroundings with a more critical eye and are better equipped to advocate for ourselves and others. We cannot solve for decades of racial injustice in mental health arenas overnight. But, we can always choose to step forward more consciously.
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health concerns, please reach out for support. Additionally, the National Institute of Mental Health has compiled an impressive (though certainly not exhaustive) list of mental health resources specific to the BIPOC community.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Mental and Behavioral Health – African Americans. (2019, September 25).
American Psychiatric Association. Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations. (2017).
Rutgers University. (2019, March 21). African Americans more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, study finds: The study suggests a bias in misdiagnosing blacks with major depression and schizophrenia. ScienceDaily.