BIPOC Mental Health Month
While May recognizes National Mental Health Awareness Month, July is known as BIPOC Mental Health Month, observing mental health in America from the unique experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of color. BIPOC Mental Health Month, also known as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, was created to spread awareness of the distinct challenges that communities of color experience regarding mental health. Bebe Moore Campbell was an author, journalist, and teacher whose work magnified the impact of mental health on communities of color and its relationship to racism. July recognizes BIPOC mental health in honor of Campbell’s tireless advocacy for the mental health needs of the Black and other underrepresented communities.
Mental Health for BIPOC Communities
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness. Even more, mental illness has been on the rise in recent years. Rates of depression increased by 63% between 2009 and 2017 in young adults aged 18 to 25 years old.1 According to the CDC and APA, mental health disorder rates are similar across racial groups. However, it is the socioeconomic barriers, racial trauma, and cultural stigmas that account for the differences when it comes to experiencing mental illness. For example, individuals that have experienced an emotionally painful, sudden, and uncontrollable racist encounter are at risk of suffering from a race-based traumatic stress injury2 unique to those who are non-white.
Resources for mental health services are scarce, to begin with. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation data, 47% of the U.S. population in 2022 was living in a mental health workforce shortage area. Of the therapists currently employed in the US, over 75% are white, a stark comparison to the number of non-white therapists identified in the chart below (insert graphic). The stigma that comes from cultural differences, such as individualism versus collectivism and the “model-minority myth,” contributes to data that shows that Asian Americans are least likely to receive mental health treatment.3
BIPOC Communities and Climate Change
Because of the challenges that have arisen due to climate change, a term we are seeing increasingly these days is “climate anxiety.” Climate anxiety refers to the distress about climate change and its impacts on the landscape and human existence. This goes beyond general worry because of the physical response this kind of anxiety elicits- heart racing and shortness of breath- and an intrusion that impedes your daily life.
Environmental racism, the unequal access to a clean environment and basic environmental resources based on race is a type of racial trauma. Dr. Beverly Wright, a sociologist, and CEO of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, elaborates on what this means for BIPOC Frontline communities:
Communities of color are in double jeopardy” from the climate crisis. First, if you’re a person of color, particularly Black or Latino, you’re more likely to live near toxic facilities, like petrochemical companies here in Louisiana, producing toxins that shorten and impact quality of life. And then, [our communities] are on the front line of impacts from climate change, living in places where there could be more floods and a higher incidence of different climate-related diseases. For poor communities, there’s also not having access to health insurance or medical services. Communities of color are disproportionately affected by all of these things.4
So how does climate anxiety specifically impact BIPOC communities? Well, for one, many BIPOC communities are already dealing with the difficult realities of climate change more than privileged individuals. Because of environmental racism, people of color, and Black people in particular, are much more likely to be exposed to air pollution, according to a study done by scientists with The EPA in 2018. Communities of color are also disproportionately exposed to heat islands, urbanized areas that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas (about 1–7°F higher than temperatures in remote areas, in fact).5 Across the U.S., Indigenous communities are facing threats to their homelands such as coastal erosion, severe drought, and failing crops.6 When these conditions result in mental health concerns, many BIPOC people must also overcome the barriers discussed earlier for these communities to access appropriate healthcare.
Self-care & Community Care
BIPOC Frontline environmental justice advocates have been organizing against the unjust policies and practices perpetuating environmental racism in their communities. And they have been creating and leading efforts that have brought just solutions. It is this collective power that demonstrates resilience, strength, and hope. Doing what you need to care for your mental health is just as important as the efforts to protect and empower your community. Activist burnout and climate anxiety can potentially bring movements to a stall. This is how balancing self-care and community care becomes vital in our environmental justice work.
- If you are struggling with mental health and need someone to talk to, dial 988 to be connected to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
- You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a volunteer Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line
- Other resources include:
- Blackline – Call or text 1+(800) 604-5841
- Trans Lifeline – Call (877) 565-8860
- If finances are preventing you from finding help, contact a local health or mental health clinic or your local government to see what services you qualify for. You can find contact information online at findtreatment.samhsa.gov or by calling the National Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357).
- If you or your loved one does not speak English or are not comfortably fluent, you have the right to receive language-access services at institutions that receive funding from the federal government as well as the right to request a trained interpreter and to receive forms or information in your preferred language.
- If you do not have legal documentation, seek out clinics and resources that care for all community members. Latinx-based organizations often provide services regardless of legal status.
1“Age, Period, and Cohort Trends in Mood Disorder and Suicide-Related Outcomes in a Nationally Representative Dataset, 2005-2017,” by Jean Twenge, PhD, San Diego State University; Thomas Joiner, PhD, and Mary Duffy, BA, Florida State University; Bell Cooper, PhD, Lynn University; and Sara Binau, Pomona College. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, published online March 14, 2019.
2Mental Health America, “Racial Trauma”
3Yang KG, Rodgers CRR, Lee E, Lê Cook B. Disparities in Mental Health Care Utilization and Perceived Need Among Asian Americans: 2012-2016. Psychiatr Serv. 2020 Jan 1;71(1):21-27. doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.201900126. Epub 2019 Oct 2. PMID: 31575351.
4Green Matters, “Climate Justice Is Racial Justice”
5United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Heat Island Effect”