July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Although stigmatizing people who need mental health healing should have faded into nothingness long ago, even discussing mental illness can still be challenging in homes and in communities. However, therapy is not a dirty word.

The Office of Minority Health (OMH) noted that American author and mental health advocate Bebe Moore Campbell ”was driven to bring awareness to the unique mental health struggles of racial and ethnic minority communities through her personal experiences with a family member’s mental illness.”  

Moore, a founding member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Urban Los Angeles, died in 2006.

The U.S. House of Representatives announced July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2008. It recognized that “improved access to mental health treatment and services and public awareness of mental illness are of paramount importance.”

Plenty of work remains. Empowering Black people to experience increased compassion, support and optimal mental health is undeniably an important task.

“African Americans are 20 percent more likely to have serious psychological distress than Whites are” and “African Americans’ depressive occurrences are more disabling,  persistent, and resistant to treatment than those experienced by Whites,” per National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Andrea Brown, the executive director of Baltimore-based Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA), leads a nonprofit that continues the work of helping individuals, families and children with their mental health needs. 

“Our vision really is to develop culturally relevant educational training and seminars, so that Black people and brown [people], but specifically Black people, really are able to realize optimal mental health. The core of what we do is training, but we also have a referral program and a therapist database. So, we’ve got an expansive database of culturally competent and patient-centered, licensed mental health professionals,” Brown said.

It is critical to note that it can be more difficult to connect with a Black therapist because the numbers of available clinicians changed because of pandemic burnout. Additionally, Brown explained that the digital divide can be a huge barrier.

“There are times where teletherapy is available, but because the Internet in some urban areas is just poor, the digital divide is real,” Brown said, also noting that it can also be problematic in rural locations.

 BMHA’s value is immeasurable to those who seek referrals that are provided with a human touch through a concierge approach. After individuals fill out what resembles a questionnaire, they are asked a series of questions to pair them with clinicians, or even a healing circle. 

 “Those are things that we do culturally to be able to wrap our arms around Black people,” Brown said. “We make referrals across the country.”

Another resource is community conversations—a forum to share the truth about mental health and wellness in the Black community and the risks in not addressing the trauma. 

“It is centered around a Zulu greeting, “Sawubona.” It means “I see you.”

Some post-pandemic offerings are now available online.

Another benefit of connecting with BMHA for members who are clinicians is continuing education units through the nonprofit. Additionally, programs are offered for young people.

Brown added that cultural differences in mental health support do exist. Dr. Maxie Collier, the first Black health commissioner for Baltimore City, who was also a licensed psychiatrist was BMHA’s principal founder. Fikre Workhen, a social worker from Ethiopia, and Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a registered nurse, were thought leaders who assisted with developing trainings for workshops and forums. Senator Nathan-Pullmian leveraged her work in the General Assembly to appoint a task force to examine health disparities in communities of color which included mental health.

 Collier made observations about mental illness misdiagnosis of Black men and boys. The trio wanted therapy to be viewed through a culturally competent lens.

“They concluded that culturally-competent mental health providers were scarce and that increased training would increase this pool,” per information provided on BMHA’s website.

Brown added that since life experiences that Black and brown people have are very different from those of their counterparts, therapy must be examined “from the lens of systemic racism.” 

BMHA turns 40 on December 9, 2023.

“But then in January, we will announce our healing tour. And so, we’re going to certain cities in the country, to host workshops,” Brown said.

Community resources and speakers will be integrated into hosted offerings. Establishing details are in development. There are a number of things planned in the upcoming year for the community.

Visit www.blackmentalhealth.com for more information about BMHA.

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