By Pam Dewey • December 10, 2020
The pandemic has caused an increase in mental health issues for many people. For Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC), an increase in mental health issues is further complicated by provider bias, mental health stigma and personal and historical trauma.
Facing Provider Bias
In a Heathline.com article, Julie Smithwick, director of the Center for Community Health Alignment, states, “Conscious or unconscious bias from providers and lack of cultural competence can result in misdiagnosis [and] inadequate treatment.” Though Smithwick specifically refers to Black Americans, many people of color struggle with these same issues. BIPOC concerns may be dismissed when seeking treatment because of bias from healthcare providers, or they might be diagnosed incorrectly, which results in the wrong type of treatment.
Smithwick also states this can lead to “distrust in mental health professionals, which can prevent many from seeking or continuing treatment.” Even if a person of color seeks help, they may stop going because they fear they’re not receiving the right care, because what they’re saying is being ignored or because they simply don’t trust their healthcare provider.
Navigating the Mental Health stigma
Having mental health issues still carries a stigma. Many people are ashamed to admit they are struggling with their mental health. In the Black community, being seen as weak can prevent some from seeking mental health services. According to Healthline.com, Black people are also often taught to mask their feelings because showing emotions can be politicized as a Black person being “violent, aggressive or angry.” Rather than share their feelings, they might ignore their emotions, leaving serious mental health issues untreated.
This stigma can be found in many communities of color. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some Latinx people may not seek care because they don’t want to “air their dirty laundry” or believe that turning to religion can solve their problems. For undocumented immigrants, there may be language barriers or fear of deportation.
In addition to the challenges with access and stigmatization, BIPOC face other complex issues that can make treating mental health concerns more challenging.
The Trauma of the White Body Standard
Therapist and trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem has studied racialized trauma and how it affects BIPOC’s bodies. In a MinnPost article, Menakem explains, “the white body [is] seen as the supreme standard of humanity,” which sets up other types of bodies, like Black bodies, as “the antithesis to that.” The result is that BIPOC bodies are stripped of humanity and devalued, which changes the way BIPOC are viewed and treated. Realizing you aren’t as valued or as deserving of humane treatment because of your skin color can be incredibly traumatizing.
Menakem also points out that the white body standard is reflected and enforced in legal institutions, scientific institutions (including medical institutions), religious institutions, military institutions and educational institutions. In other words, BIPOC people face barriers in nearly every realm of life.
Grappling with Historical Trauma
Menakem states BIPOC grapple with historical trauma, as well as personal trauma. Consider the impact on Indigenous people, who had their land taken and then were forced to stop wearing traditional clothing, eating traditional foods and speaking their native languages. Imagine the effect on Black people, who were largely brought to this country as slaves, faced segregation under Jim Crow laws and experienced racial violence like lynchings and other forms of aggression. Understand the trauma of Latinx people, who may have escaped deadly violence in their home countries to arrive in the U.S. and face anti-immigrant policies, more violence and other discrimination. Comprehend that many Asian Americans faced violence from war before immigrating and then were stereotyped as submissive and meek and faced even more racialized violence when they reached the U.S.
In his e-course, Menakem says that people’s bodies may “remember” trauma, even if their brains don’t. That can result in hypervigilance, rage, sleep issues, disassociation and depression. Small issues may suddenly snowball into major issues, or BIPOC may find themselves completely shutting down or “collapsing” as a response to their historical trauma.
Menakem says it’s important to help BIPOC develop context for these types of reactions. He also points out that healing is different for people who’ve been historically traumatized. The volume of hurt they’ve experienced may simply be greater. To heal, they must acknowledge their historical trauma and let out all the bad feelings and trauma.
Seeking BIPOC Sensitive Mental Healthcare
Despite all these challenges, BIPOC should seek help, if they find themselves dealing with depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Try reaching out to mental healthcare providers that are sensitive to the needs of the BIPOC community.
“Fraser is now taking the needed measures to ensure its staff are providing a culturally and ethically competent service for all of our clients, especially those in the BIPOC community. Fraser recognizes the many challenges facing Black, Indigenous and people of color and is working towards educating and training its staff to deliver a supportive, more responsive approach,” says Jordan Brandt, Fraser anti-racism project lead and mental health professional.
Fraser is committed to continuously working to become an anti-racist organization. As a mental healthcare provider, we also understand our vital role in supporting people who have and continue to suffer trauma due to systemic racism. We serve children through adults with mental healthcare services, as well as those with co-occurring conditions like autism or developmental disabilities.
For those who want immediate help, Fraser has launched the Fraser Hope Line, a free phone line that connects people directly with a mental health professional. Call 612-446-HOPE (4673) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.