Letter to the Editor | Mental health stigma constrains minorities
March 27, 2021
As a first-generation Mexican American, access to mental health services was a foreign concept when my family and I first came to the United States. Not because the U.S. lacks resources to provide mental health services, but because for many minorities there is a cultural gap we must overcome: the stigma of mental health.
In many Hispanic households, seeking mental health services can be a sign of weakness and could also be considered as a form of attention-seeking behavior. However, the mental health stigma is not limited to the Hispanic community. Amelia Seraphia Derr, Ph.D. and LCSW, states that for Middle Easterners, stigma was also a barrier to receiving mental health services 71% of the time.
Furthermore, being part of the Black community is also mired with stigma about receiving mental health services. For example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that Black people in the U.S. are more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of sadness, depression and hopelessness. Nonetheless, only one in three African American adults seek help, citing that 63% perceive a mental health condition as a weakness.
There is a disparity and inequality between physical and mental illness/disabilities. It is not always easy to recognize when someone is hurting from the inside, as one would with a physical illness. For example, is it easier for a person to say they are seeing a primary care doctor or for someone to say they are seeing a psychiatrist?
We reduce stigma by beginning to normalize it both from the person who has a mental illness and those who support them. NAMI recommends nine ways to normalize seeking help including showing compassion, conscious language and educating yourself and others. Dr. Fauci is concerned the COVID-19 pandemic will cause the next mental health pandemic. Therefore, let us begin normalizing mental health by supporting, normalizing and encouraging each other — especially for our minority population.
Daniel is a junior in Social Work.