5 Ways To End Stigmas Against Mental Health Care In Communities Of Color

Person lying on sofa and talking to therapist

I first went to a therapist at my university’s health center during my sophomore year. I decided to go because of anxiety caused by a health scare. After I filled out a mountain of paperwork, a white male counselor did my intake.

The counselor gave me some peace of mind; he assured me that I would be matched with one of their clinicians. However, I never heard back from him.

Eventually, my health scare was resolved, but I was bummed that the counselor never followed up with me again. When I finally mustered up the nerve to seek out therapy at the health center once again, they paired me with a white female counselor who I stopped seeing after a short while.

I’ve been in therapy on and off for the past decade and have never felt like it was really successful. The majority of my mental health care providers have looked nothing like me, which has only contributed to my therapy failures.

For this and other reasons, I’m sometimes skeptical about mental health care, but I haven’t given up all hope. Still, a lot of people of color do avoid seeking appropriate mental health care altogether because of the ways we’ve been criminalized and dehumanized within our country’s healthcare system.

In communities of color, mental health care is often viewed as only for white middle-class people, and folks are encouraged to keep their problems in the community and in the church. This myth stems from our lack of privilege to have space and time to acknowledge that we need to heal.

For example, I know that I should reach out to a professional soon about how my personal and intergenerational trauma has recently been triggered by conflicts within my community and in the world. I probably won’t, though, because I have to take care of too many other things.

I’m just one of many Black people in the U.S. struggling with mental health issues. Black folks are 10 percent more likely than non-Latinx whites to suffer from mental illness, according to the Office of Minority Health.

I don’t want to internalize society’s perception of me as simultaneously less than human and superhuman. As a Black nonbinary woman, I try my hardest to reject the trope of the “strong Black woman.

I dream of a world where Black women are free to be vulnerable as we please.

In a time when communities of color are facing unprecedented attacks from Pres. Trump’s administration and emboldened white supremacists, we can’t afford to uphold myths about mental health. We need whole bodies, minds, and spirits if we’re to survive the Trump era.

So, here are five ways POC can end stigmas against mental health care within our communities:

1. Talk about mental health with the people in your life

Talking more frequently and more openly about mental health care is key to ending stigmas around it, particularly within communities of color.

Dr. Monnica Williams, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Connecticut, says that people sharing about times when they’ve received effective mental health care can help others rethink their misconceptions.

Also, many POC have loved ones who help support their mental health outside of the system simply by lending an empathetic ear.

It’s important to have people in community who can affirm and reflect your struggles, just be sure to set clear boundaries with them.

2. Help educate your community about mental health

Erica Woodland, a licensed clinical social worker and founder and director of the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network (NQTTCN), says there’s a basic level of mental health literacy that all POC require in order to make it in the world.

This means more psychoeducation in communities of color, which is the process of providing education and information to people in need of mental health services.

This also means training everyday folks who aren’t clinicians on how to adequately respond to fellow community members experiencing mental health crises.

One POC organization already doing this work is the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), one of NQTTCN’s community partners.

BEAM trains “individuals, organizations and grassroots movements on how to implement and embody healing justice and social justice informed mental health strategies into their communities and work.” They envision a world where there are no barriers to Black healing.

We need more groups like BEAM who can educate POC about how to talk to peers about mental health care so that it can become more accepted in communities of color.

3. Share online mental health resources with friends and family

NQTTCN provides a national directory of queer and trans therapists of color on their website. Dr. Williams suggests the directory of Black psychologists on the Association of Black Psychologists website. Similarly, BEAM provides online toolkits and education resources.

Another online resource is QTPoC Mental Health, a volunteer-led group that “empowers the community through knowledge and compassion, with the ultimate goals of creating online & offline spaces for LGBTQ2IA people of color to be comfortably [and] unapologetically our whole selves.”

I’m a follower of QTPoC Mental Health’s online zine, Rest for Resistance, which is by and for queer and trans people of color. They also have an Intersectional Mental Health directory with resources, which you can find here.

4. Practice healing justice

Woodland defines healing justice as an emergent movement started by QTPOC, poor, and disabled folks in response to trauma and violence within social justice movements; it is a movement that centers our individual and collective healing as we do social justice work.

As a community organizer, the concept of healing justice strongly resonates with me. My own emotional and mental health is directly linked to the emotional and mental health of my communities. Several times, I’ve witnessed firsthand the need for more healing resources for community organizations.

Ime Kerlee, a Portland-based Black queer licensed professional counselor, says that POC activists pass our trauma back and forth, which is why we must prioritize healing within our movements.

Community healing manifests in many different ways. It may look like collectives doing art in schools to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, or herbalist groups taking back the earth; it may look like the sharing of ancestral knowledge or like POC yoga practitioners teaching other POC how to breathe and feel safe and present in their bodies.

5. Support POC mental health providers

Dr. Williams says that as a Black female psychologist, she’s realized that most white therapists don’t know how to help POC with issues that are unique to our communities. They don’t get trained to help us navigate the impacts of racism.

Bad experiences with white therapists can traumatize POC and keep us from seeking further help. Mental healthcare is easier to swallow when it comes from someone who shares a similar background and empathizes with your stories.

Given this, the mental health field must do more to welcome POC counselors, psychologists, and social workers into their ranks. Graduate therapy programs must consider applicants’ ability to serve communities of color when admitting students — this is how things will start to change.

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Kerlee calls POC healing “a revolution.” No matter what the world tells us, we have a right to heal.

We don’t need mental health care because we’re ‘messed up’ people. We need it because we experience such high levels of trauma in our white supremacist world.

I am committed to learning how to take care of my mental health during this era of heightened white supremacy. I challenge fellow POC to find out how to stay mentally and emotionally well so that we may continue to fight for our survival and begin to thrive in these tumultuous times.

Neesha Powell-Twagirumukiza (she & they pronouns) is an Everyday Feminism Reporting Fellow. Neesha identifies as an intersectional feminist, womanist, writer, community organizer, facilitator, dancer, freedom fighter, wife, and cat mama. She’s constantly conspiring in the name of liberated Black futures, queer and trans people of color power, solidarity economics, and transformative justice/community accountability. Neesha’s based in a suburb south of Seattle, where she lives, loves, and creates with chosen family.