“Racism is a mental health issue because racism causes trauma”- Mental Health America. This is a strong statement that requires deep consideration. Racism, mental health concerns, and trauma are infused. As people of faith, it is our responsibility to better understand structural and systemic racism, and how it impacts our individual and communal mental health. Racism is both a mental health issue and a theological issue that impacts all communities of faith.
Partners in Health and Wholeness works alongside faith communities to collectively address health topics, including mental health, and the disenfranchisement of health. By disenfranchisement, we mean the existence of barriers and unequal access to resources that better a person’s life and health. Systemic and structural racism impact access to mental health resources. Faith communities can work to heal this gap.
Mental health concerns and conditions can impact anyone, regardless of race. However, there is tremendous inequity in mental health care due to the disparities found in socioeconomic levels, immigrant status, education, public resources, rural access, and more. These disparities are caused by long-existing systems that further oppress people of color. With this, BIPOC (Black & Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color) persons often do not have access to affordable and quality healthcare. These barriers include cultural stigmas and toxic theology around mental health. Stigma and cultural norms can cause shame in receiving mental health support or for having a mental health concern.
These barriers are formidable, and all white spaces, especially white faith communities, need to be aware of these inequities in order to provide ministry that is productive, culturally aware, anti-racist, trauma-informed, and most importantly: sacred.
Mental health concerns are difficult for all communities, but especially challenging for BIPOC persons. Below are statistics about mental health concerns and access to resources:
- “The suicide death rate for Native/Indigenous people in America between the ages of 15-19 is more than double that of non-Hispanic whites.” (Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities And Mental Health, Mental Health America)
- “In 2018, 10.8 percent of Asian Americans lived at or below poverty level, and 6.2 percent were without health insurance. Hawaiian Natives and Pacific Islanders fared slightly worse with 14.8 percent at or below poverty level, and 8.6 percent without health insurance. (Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities And Mental Health, Mental Health America)
- “Black adults are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult Whites.” (Racism and Mental Health, Mental Health First Aid & Mental Health America)
- “In 2018, 56.8 percent of Latinx/Hispanic young adults 18-25 and 39.6 percent of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment.” (2018 National Survey of Drug Use and Health [NSDUH] Releases, SAMHSA)
We hope this invites awareness around the language we use and the hidden stigmas we may carry. We are intentionally using the phrase BIPOC (Black & Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color) instead of the phrase “minority” or “marginalized groups” because BIPOC is a strengths-based approach, meaning it empowers and reduces stigma.
Trauma and racism are inextricable. Every day, there are events that happen to BIPOC persons, of all ages, that cause trauma, impacting their emotional, physical, and spiritual health. These events are not always overt, such as a news headline, but the day-to-day fear and fatigue from navigating neighborhoods, school systems, work places, sports teams, financial systems, government and court systems, policing, healthcare access, income and wages, and more. There are episodes of stress, anxiety, and trauma that BIPOC persons endure that many of us will never know.
As we work together to have healthier conversations about mental health in our faith communities, let us commit to raise up these concerns. Faith communities have a moral responsibility to love and care for all of God’s creation. Let us listen and learn so that we can fight stigma more productively. BIPOC persons have mental health concerns like we all do- but they are compounded by the everyday stress of not being white in the United States.
The next part of this series is about resiliency: how faith communities can build resiliency using strengths-based strategies, address individual and community trauma, and uplift BIPOC mental health leaders and their resources.
Sources: CDC, 2019. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS)-Mental Health America https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html
- Mental Health America, United States Census Bureau – American Community Survey (2018).
- Mental Health America’s “BIPOC Mental Health Month 2020 Outreach Toolkit (https://mhanational.org/sites/default/files/2020%20BIPOC%20MHM%20TOOLKIT%20FINAL%206.29.20_0.pdf)
- Mental Health America:
- (1) Black And African American Communities And Mental Health https://www.mhanational.org/issues/black-and-african-american-communities-and-mental-health
- (2) Latinx/Hispanic Communities And Mental Health https://www.mhanational.org/issues/latinxhispanic-communities-and-mental-health
- (3) Native And Indigenous Communities And Mental Health https://www.mhanational.org/issues/native-and-indigenous-communities-and-mental-health
- (4) Asian American/Pacific Islander Communities And Mental Health https://www.mhanational.org/issues/asian-americanpacific-islander-communities-and-mental-health
- SAMSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2018): https://www.samhsa.gov/data/release/2018-national-survey-drug-use-and-health-nsduh-releases