This July we celebrate the legacy of Bebe Moore Campbell, a pioneer of equitable mental health advocacy in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. Her tireless efforts to recognize the unique needs in these communities led to the 2008 formal dedication of July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Her work reflects her reality: a black mother seeking a better future for her child struggling with mental illness.
As we navigate a more equitable future, it is best to exercise cultural humility by listening to the knowledgeable voices of others with different perspectives and experiences than our own. How do we, as mental health advocates, do this? In “Beyond the Numbers”, a comprehensive toolkit from Mental Health America and its partners, experts describe several key ways in which we can respond to the inequities in the mental health space (source). Here are three of my takeaways:
The toolkit offers a synopsis of historical backgrounds, beliefs, strengths, resiliency factors, and barriers to mental health for American Indians/Alaska Natives, Arab/Middle Eastern/Muslim/South Asian Heritage, Asian/Pacific American Heritage, Black/African American Heritage, Latinx/Hispanic, and Multiracial Heritage. Broadening our perspective means doing our due diligence to learn about different, community-specific understandings of mental health. For instance, when learning about both historical and present barriers to mental health for BIPOC, we must have a research-based understanding of financial challenges, geographical disadvantages, lack of trust in Western medical practices, linguistic barriers, and more. Studies and data-driven research from trusted sources help us to gain a better and broader understanding of the mental health field.
Learning goes beyond just the research element of getting yourself acclimated to different walks of life. Learning also includes listening to the voices of impacted communities. Researching, although invaluable in this line of work, is only one part of the full picture. We must pair our facts and statistics with the individual experiences of those in our field and in our personal lives. Although we are not entitled to the lived experience of those around us, we are in the unique position as mental health advocates to work in tandem with those who live out different cultural and social backgrounds than our own. Our goal as learners should be to take on cultural humility—casting out personal biases or interpretations—and come to the table with open ears and open hearts.
What can we do to ensure these marginalized voices are heard and amplified to enact mental health justice? Beyond listening and learning, we have to use our positions as persons in a place of privilege to seek out solutions to the problems we are seeing. The toolkit in “Beyond the Numbers” suggests that an equitable screening form for mental health awareness be commonplace—one that does not discriminate based on geographical location, religious background, financial status, language differences, etc. As discussed in “Beyond the Numbers”, several BIPOC communities are underrepresented and underreported in mental health care—meaning our health care systems are not able to accurately or efficiently treat their unique needs. If we are pushing for a more inclusive record system of mental health needs in marginalized communities, we are actively seeking equity in our field. We should also be calling on members in our field—mental healthcare professionals, counselors, therapists, and fellow volunteers—to utilize inclusive language, to be a listening ear, to research these unique issues, and to push for equitable mental health care across the board.
As mental health advocates we are responsible to advocate for everyone, not just those in our own communities. We must do our research, we must listen, and we must do something about the challenges we are seeing. We cannot be silent. During Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and for the rest of our future, our role is not to speak over the voices of others but to join them in the conversation.