July is Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month

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BIPOC Mental Health Month – also known as Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Month – happens every year in the month of July. Established in 2008, the goal of BIPOC Mental Health Month is to raise awareness about issues related to mental health care in BIPOC populations in the U.S.

In 2020, the most pressing concern is that lack of access to equal care – combined with fallout from the coronavirus pandemic – contributes to a broad range of negative mental health outcomes for BIPOC populations.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Agency for Healthcare Research (AHR), and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) report the following concerning statistics around BIPOC mental health:

  • 35.1% of African American youth receive care for a major depressive episode
  • 41.5% of non-African American youth receive care for a major depressive episode
  • African Americans living below the poverty line are 50% more likely than other groups to experience feelings of hopelessness and despair

For many populations, these distressing factors can intersect. The problem is compounded by the fact that – statistically speaking – some BIPOC groups are more likely to live below the poverty line than non-BIPOC populations. Therefore, they’re less likely to have access to mental health services.

Recent research shows:

  • BIPOC groups are less likely to have access to mental health care
  • African American and Hispanic adults are less likely than their white counterparts to have a regular medical care provider
  • African American and Hispanic adults are less likely to have had a routine physical checkup in the past year

These facts confirm the necessity of BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month and validate the pressing need to raise awareness about access to care, the use of care, and the stigma surrounding mental health care in minority communities.

Substance Use Disorders and Co-Occurring Mental Health Conditions

In the general population, significant correlation exists between rates of substance use disorder (SUD), alcohol use disorder (AUD), and mental health disorders. This is of special concern for BIPOC or underserved populations – both because the percentage of those affected is higher in those populations, and because there is less access to quality care and treatment.

A major longitudinal study designed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found growing evidence of the need for quality care in BIPOC populations in the US. The study assessed racial and ethnic disparities in access to treatment and found disproportionately high rates of alcohol-related deaths among African American and Hispanic populations.

Other  BIPOC groups face similar challenges. Between 2001 and 2005, the number of indigenous people whose deaths could be attributed to alcohol-related causes was more than double the number in the non-indigenous population.

COVID-19 has widened the gap for vulnerable populations. Recent studies show that BIPOC populations have a significantly higher risk of contracting coronavirus and are more likely to experience severe complications, up to and including death. Because people from BIPOC populations often work in roles defined as essential during the crisis – including healthcare, food service, and transit workers – they run a higher risk of exposure.

Strategies to Improve Outcomes in BIPOC Populations

What can we conclude from this research?

Increasing education, awareness, and access are the first steps on the road to addressing inequities in both access to and use of care. Here’s how those three things can work to get minority populations the support they need:

  1. Education on the science of mental health and the efficacy of treatment can help reduce the stigma that prevents many people in BIPOC populations from seeking treatment.
  2. Awareness campaigns can change attitudes toward mental health care. Increased knowledge about access to care, the importance of treatment, and the prevalence of mental health disorders may encourage people to step forward and ask for help.
  3. Access to primary care providers – and including mental health screening in regular checkups – can prevent undiagnosed mental health disorders from escalating to the critical stage.

That third point is important. Right now, many people in BIPOC populations don’t seek help for mental health disorders until they’re in crisis – and this is directly related to their ability to visit doctors for regular, primary-care checkups and/or wellness visits.

Finally, while the coronavirus pandemic has exposed stark inequalities in our healthcare system, it has also underscored the potential and practicality of virtual care. Digital tools such as telehealth, remote AA meetings, and remote patient monitoring applications make clear how medical professionals can offer the necessary care, intervention, and support to populations that lack access to care through traditional means.