Where the Black People At?!
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, which was created to bring awareness to the mental struggles underrepresented groups (aka Black and brown folks) face in the US. Now, I’m all for starting a conversation and helping bring awareness to anything that helps us - but, the fact that we need a month to tell the country that we have mental health issues too, speaks to how little we are considered and how white washed the field of mental health really is.
Not really a surprise though after all we do have Black History Month..
Let’s see, where do I start?
I went to Morgan State University where I earned my bachelor's in psychology, and not long after went on to earn my double masters in education and social work, and finally my PhD in human sexuality. (Don’t worry, this isn’t just a shameless educational brag) See, I thought (and my parents wanted) that I was going to go to school and become a doc of psychology, hah! Even the best laid plans can go to waste. Anyway, that vision did not become my reality, partly because I perceived psychology to be very racist. Now, psychology being racist is just my opinion and there’s a chance it’s not, but it’s hard to think otherwise when I know there are “Black Psychology” programs and classes that need to be created because the issues that impact Black folk are not “mainstream” (white). Plus it’s hard not to think so after what I experienced being in mental health focused programs (both in school and beyond). Much of my education was focused on white people, both in psychology and then, later in social work, too (which for some reason I thought would be more diverse given all the Black Social Workers I knew). The theorists that we learned about most often were white, and the research that I saw was mostly done on white people, for white people, with a very small percentage, if there was any real percentage at all, on people of color. White folks were the foundation of the curriculum, the research, the books used, etc. What’s worse is that, at the time of my undergrad experience, while I noticed it, I didn’t really think anything of it, because I was blissfully unaware in my HBCU program that there was something wrong with the all-white cast going on in psych— I was surrounded by Blackness on all sides, what were a few white folk to learn about when in a bowl of undiluted melanin? I’ve grown, okay— though in retrospect I remember some info made to challenge us on issues of race, but not enough to make up for the white washed psych focus.
Just a few weeks ago I recorded a video on my Instagram, about Psychology Today, and the continued use of white women and white bodies in general, on the covers of their magazine that I get every month.
Side note: I know I shouldn’t expect a damn thing from them, especially since having had a whole article back in 2011 about the “scientific” proof of why Black women are less attractive. Apparently they didn’t read it before posting **eyeroll**
After months of Black people demanding someone that looked like them, they picked the fairest skinned, curly hair woman they could find in a half assed attempt to appease all the Black people “complaining”, while also keeping their white subscribers (their top priority) happy. This attempt at so called inclusivity was tone deaf at best, malicious at worst, if that was what they were doing.
Inclusion is important, it helps Black and brown people to see that our issues actually matter in the field of mental health, and that mental health services aren’t just a “white thing.” The constant touting of white people as the face of mental health in the media does not do that. It does not let us know, as professionals and consumers, that we are cared for and heard of, and it certainly doesn't help our brothers and sisters to feel seen or confirm that there are therapists who look like them and can relate to them on a unique level. Instead, we are seen as having a proclivity to violence and/or stupidity, because of the supposed animalistic nature of Black folk. Obviously this thinking is both antiquated and baseless.
Our problems and needs aren't being addressed as they should and these examples alone show me that the mental health field places less value on Black people’s mental health and provides a bit of reason why there needs to a Minority Mental Health Awareness month in the first place.
So, What Do We Do?
Well, first I think that it’s important that we stop expecting, or at least lower our expectations, for white people to put forth a lot of effort in spreading awareness and addressing our mental health. Now, I’m not saying that we don’t continue to demand it from them, like we continue to do with services like Psychology Today, but in the meantime we have to take that responsibility in our own hands. And I must say that I think we’ve taken a great stride towards doing just that with the beautiful mental health awareness movement in our Black communities. However, we need to make sure that this isn’t a fad that will be forgotten about next year, we have to continue to spread awareness until addressing mental health is the norm. This can be done by simply continuing to share articles on Facebook, encouraging family and friends to seek help, and letting those in our communities know that it’s okay not to be okay.
We also should not wait on them to shine the spotlight on our Black mental health professionals or advocates. We have more than enough influence and power to bring attention to these people, and we don’t need to wait on magazines like Psychology Today to do that. We can continue to support organizations like Therapy for Black Girls, Melanin & Mental Health, Health in Her Hue, and Therapy for Black Men, who do an amazing job of providing a platform, not only to praise and celebrate Black counselors, therapists and psychologists, but to make sure we can get services from folk who look like us.
Mental health awareness, and therapy is for EVERYONE, not just white folk. Until the mental health field truly recognizes that and pays a little more than diversity lip service, we can and should proudly celebrate Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s make it our revelation, as we take the opportunity to speak and spread awareness about our mental health, from our own perspective, with an emphasis on our needs.
3 Ways to Spread the Minority Mental Health Message
Stop telling folk that therapy is for white folk OR that all they need is Jesus. You can pray and see a therapist, too.
Normalize mental health by sharing articles, videos, and relevant pages on IG, FB, and Twitter to your people. If you start with the folk in your life and normalize the convo, and everyone else does the same with their people, it will spread like wildfire.
Let go of your superwoman (super person) mask! It’s okay to NOT be okay. When others see and know you are seeking help, they might talk sh!t, but they will also be (secretly) encouraged.