Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can and do affect people of all ages, economic backgrounds, and nationalities. And yet, many black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) do not often seek the help of mental health professionals. In fact, the underutilization of mental health services by BIPOC is one of the most persistent health disparities. What are some of the reasons or causes for this underutilization of mental health services and why should there be a movement towards de-stigmatizing mental health therapy for BIPOC?
Mental Health is Considered a Taboo
In many BIPOC communities, speaking about mental health struggles is considered a weakness or taboo. Getting in touch with one’s emotions is not considered a good thing and speaking about your emotions or showing vulnerability to a stranger is often thought of as unacceptable. This perception stigmatizes getting mental health therapy, even if it is needed.
Therapy is Not Perceived as Credible
Many in the BIPOC community are less likely than European-Americans to perceive therapy as credible, according to some research. This may stem from the fact that the focus of common treatments (CBT as an example) is on the methods (self-disclosure) and these methods seem somehow unrelated to possible positive outcomes (a reduction in anxiety, as an example).
Collectivistic VS Individualistic Cultural Values
Many, but not all, BIPOC communities come from a collectivistic background, meaning they value the group as opposed to the individual. People in these communities may have an interdependent view of self as well as an emphasis on interpersonal relationships. Whereas many in the European-American communities come from an individualistic cultural background that supports an independent view of the self and emphasizes self-development and self-growth. Getting help outside of their community can be frowned upon.
One of the biggest obstacles in receiving effective mental health care is being able to express your feelings. But sometimes, a language or communication barrier stands in the way of a BIPOC community member seeking treatment. Sometimes it is not a language barrier, but possibly a cultural barrier that can stand in the way. A person must be comfortable in order to do productive work in therapy, and they must find a counselor who is versed in and sensitive to BIPOC-related issues.
What Can Mental Health Community Members Do?
More discussions must happen within the BIPOC community itself for real change to occur. Overcoming the stigma of mental health is not something that will magically go away. But mental health professionals can help facilitate these conversations through outreach. These professionals should also seek to learn as much as they can about the different cultural communities in their local area so they can tailor their messaging.
If you or someone you know would like to explore treatment options, please reach out to me. Our goal is to create a safe and non-judgmental space for people of all backgrounds to explore their inner world and get the help they need.