Mental Health Advocates of Color Tackle Stigma and Disparities in Creative Ways


This National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, we are featuring some insights and initiatives by mental health advocates of color who are tackling stigma and disparities in a variety of innovative ways.


We know that minorities including African-Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans experience rates of serious psychological distress and PTSD at much higher rates than their White counterparts. And they have far less access to care and support, let alone culturally competent supports provided by persons who understand and can relate to their lived experiences than non-minority populations.


Additionally, there are deep-rooted stigmas around getting help, embodied in such stereotypes as the “strong black woman,” or the cultural concept of “no se habla de eso” [we don’t talk about it] as regards mental health in Latinx communities. For people in these communities, mental health professionals such as social workers may be regarded with distrust, as people who could be coming to take their children away.


Yet there are many activists around the country who are resisting the significant barriers and gaps in access to quality support, telling their stories, and creating practical resources to help people of color to understand their experiences of trauma and mental health conditions in the context of their history and society.


In a recent Bustle feature, “7 Mental Health Advocates Share What Stigmas They Face As A Person Of Color With Mental Illness,” these voices for change ring out loud and clear. Says one advocate, Alison Mariella Désir-Figueroa, “The messages we receive about mental illness, and the negative stigmas associated with it are ones that we all must continue to speak openly about because, even as a mental health professional and mental health advocate, I am affected. Through my work and advocacy, I hope to create spaces and communities that normalize mental healthcare, particularly for people of color.”


As regards the Native American population, advocate Teressa Baldwin told Indian Country Today in a feature on her work, “We’ve always come back to the point where young people are very comfortable talking to their elders. It’s just a matter of whether or not they have those relationships formed. One of the main things that I really am driven to do with my career is to try to create access to mental health programming that takes the perspective of elders and also traditional knowledge—I think that’s something that’s missing.”


Another promising initiative that could be duplicated elsewhere is The Southern Healing Fund, which addresses disparities and gaps in support faced by people of color south of the Mason-Dixon Line. While the fund helps to reduce disparities in access through funding therapists to provide free or discounted therapy to people of color, it also funds a variety of healing modalities. Said Yolo Akili, one of the creators of the Fund, in an interview with The Body: ‘Let’s say you want to have a free day-long healing retreat at your church or you’re a yoga instructor that wants to offer classes for black queer folks in the community, we want to help fund that too…We’ll never prescribe one way for our people to heal, especially when too many times traditional methods have failed black people and done more harm than good. So, we deserve to have many possibilities in order to rebuild ourselves and grow as a community.’”


While the challenges faced by communities of color in accessing quality support are formidable, and historical trauma runs deep, advocates and activists of color are creatively finding ways to address barriers and grow hope and resilience.


Resources for further exploration: