Guest Column: Minority Mental Health with Monica Johnson

July is National Minority Mental Health Month. Per the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health (OMH), this designation was created to raise awareness of the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States. It’s important to be a part of the raised voices aiming to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness among racial and ethnic minority populations. You can be a part of the solution by encouraging your colleagues, community organizations, faith-based institutions and other stakeholders to become more informed and curious about these healthcare disparities and collectively work to eliminate stigma and improve access to care and support.

On a practical level, here is what I know from experience. In this year alone, I have had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of young and emerging adults (traditionally ages 18 – 26), many of whom were from minority communities, about mental health and coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our future leaders and young adults are smart and well equipped to lead the way to change perceptions about mental illness. I recall preparing for a workshop with a group of young people on this very topic. I thought I’d have a hard time getting them to open up about the emotional challenges they may be experiencing. To my surprise, I could not get them to stop talking! They were transparent about struggles they had with isolation, depression, anxiety, and other issues. Several openly discussed having struggled with thoughts of causing self-harm and at least a third of them knew someone that had thoughts of suicide. All of this disclosure and their eagerness to share not only their feelings but also discuss going to therapy, using online support tools, and other coping mechanisms, blew me away!

A few weeks ago, a young adult in my family who lives out of state walked into the hospital's emergency department and stated she needed to speak with someone because she felt like killing herself. What happened next is what you would expect; she was transported to a mental health hospital where she stayed for 6 days. During her stay, I spoke with her repeatedly as she was frustrated, wanted to go home, and had no idea that seeking help would turn into a several-day hospital stay. This was her introduction to the mental health service system. This 20-year-old had the wherewithal to seek help for her depression on her own but now may not stay connected to treatment because of her initial experience. Another reminder that we have work to do everywhere regarding access AND successful engagement.

What I learned from my 20-year-old family member and the hundreds of other young adults is simple: They have done more to reduce the stigma related to mental illness than many of us seasoned professionals. This younger generation has lots to tell us if we only listen. They are not afraid and are unapologetically walking into taking care of their mind, soul, and body in a destigmatizing and normalized way. Let’s keep this in mind and look to our future leaders for tangible and sustainable ways in which we can eliminate the stigma related to mental illness. This is the first and most critical step in improving minority health outcomes.

Be Informed – Monica Johnson, LPC