By Corrine Ruth, NAMI Policy Intern
In 2008, Congress declared July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month (NMMHAM) in honor of author and advocate, Bebe Moore Campbell. Her close experience with a family member living with a severe mental health condition compelled Campbell to write multiple books on the topics of mental illness, treatment and recovery within a family setting. But she did not stop there.
Campbell fervently believed that the national dialogue surrounding mental illness should acknowledge diverse communities. She became a prominent advocate for mental health education and support for minority populations. NMMHAM is inspired by Campbell’s efforts to include people of all communities and backgrounds in the national conversation on mental illness and increase awareness of mental health issues that, without distinction, affect us all.
Minority Mental Health Is Not a Minor Issue
As Campbell emphasized, mental illness is associated with unique concerns for minority groups. Research shows that stigma towards mental illness is especially high in minority communities, making it more difficult for individuals to talk about their concerns with family members and peers and discouraging them from seeking treatment. In Campbell’s own words, “People of color…feel the stigma more keenly. In a race-conscious society, some don't want to be perceived as having yet another deficit”. People from culturally diverse groups often face additional barriers to mental health care such as financial cost, accessibility of treatment and language difficulties.
Every person dealing with a mental health problem should have access to quality care. Every community should be aware of the importance of mental health, the sings of mental health conditions and where to find the support they need. This is why NMMHAM is an exceptional opportunity to spread the word about these issues, raise awareness and mobilize communities.
During the month of July, to celebrate NMMHAM and honor Campbell’s legacy, NAMI State Organizations and Affiliates across the nation will be focusing on how we can better address the mental health needs of people from culturally diverse groups and increase awareness of minority mental health issues locally.
The celebration kicked off on June 26 with an exciting legislative event organized by NAMI California at the State Capitol building in Sacramento. Together with Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, NAMI California leaders presented a resolution proclaiming July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month state-wide. At the event, a variety of speakers testified to the importance of recognizing minority mental health, including Senator Jim Beall, who recently led efforts to enforce mental health parity in the state budget, and individuals from diverse backgrounds who shared their experiences dealing with mental illness.
Many additional exciting and creative events are planned for this month ranging from art shows and music festivals to educational presentations and forum discussions. We encourage you to join us in celebrating mental health awareness and diversity!
Here are some suggestions for things that you can do to spread the word about the importance of minority mental health:
- Share your unique story about how you or someone you love has been affected by mental illness to let others know that they are not alone. We’ve put together some tips about including information about your community when sharing your story for NMMHAM.
- Participate in our July 10 NMMHAM Celebration webinar on bridging the gaps in access to culturally competent mental health care and support for minority communities.
- Share information about NMMHAM on your social media profile. “Like” the NMMHAM page on Facebook and use the hashtag #MinorityMentalHealth to join the conversation on Twitter.
- Visit www.nami.org/nmmham for more resources and ideas on how to get involved.
Mental illness affects people of all cultures, identities and backgrounds. Let’s promote awareness and encourage understanding this July. Let’s make a difference.