People of color are less likely to reach out for help regarding their mental health. This is because the stigmas associated with mental health are much more prevalent in communities of color than in white communities. Janell McGruder hosted a campus talk held on Jan. 30 to address the stigma. Joining her were Tianna Cervantez and Becky Canfield from the Center of Intercultural Life.
Sophomore Yasmine Davila was one of the 30 plus students of color to attend the talk. She reported that her heritage as a Latina woman and desire to stay culturally aware brought her to the event. Furthermore, Davila’s own battle with mental health made the event hit close to home for her.
“I have had a long family history of mental health and I’ve gone to therapy a couple of times. I think this was a really important topic to talk about on my own and with other people,” Davila said.
McGruder reported from a study conducted by the US Census Bureau that 21 percent of the Native American population, 15 percent of the Latino population and 16 percent of the African American population had diagnosable mental illnesses. The reported population of POC with mental illnesses could surpass the population of New York City, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia combined.
Though white adults reported having a mental illness at a similar 19 percent, they were more than twice as likely to seek out mental health services than POC. McGruder identified a series of obstacles to receiving mental health treatment specific to people of color that helped put this statistic in context.
“Multicultural communities have less access to treatment and [they] have higher levels of stigma,” McGruder said.
McGruder also identified a culturally insensitive health care system, lower rates of health insurance and language barriers as critical issues that communities of color faced. Cervantez reported that many students here at Knox have come to her facing these very same issues at home, which in turn prevents them from receiving the treatment that they need.
During the interactive portion of the event, Cervantez asked the audience to write on sticky notes the stigmas about mental health they had heard from their own communities. Afterwards, Cervantez read aloud a few to the crowd.
“‘Being seen as weak’ I like that one, it’s something that we see a lot with male identifying folks,” Cervantez said.
Cervantes touched upon the fact that men are often afraid to receive treatment for mental health because it threatens their preconceived notions of masculinity. In the room of more than 30 students, there was not one male-identifying student present.
Senior Nola Thompson stated that talking about stigmas during the presentation was really interesting for her. Winter break was the first time she learned her own father had been on medication for mental health problems. Growing up, her relatives never talked about having mental health problems because of the pressure to appear “perfect” and “strong” as an educated black family.
“I found out for the first time that several of my relatives have been on antidepressants and stuff. I literally had never heard about that before,” Thompson said. “You can’t dwell on the darker thoughts so that you can succeed and prove what is thought about black people as wrong.”
Both Cervantez and McGruder had faced similar issues of mental health not being spoken about in their families. Cervantez had grown up hearing that her mental illness was a result of a lack of faith and that the advice she received from relatives after divulging her problems was to “pray on it.” McGruder, who is biracial, was told that her mental health problems came from “the white side of her,” as mental illness in her family was thought to be something only white people had.
Yet, Cervantez and McGruder reported that as time has gone on and the stigma behind mental illness has eroded, several of their family members have gone to therapy after initially laughing at them. The pair urged their audience to facilitate positive dialogue about mental health so that the attitude about mental health changes for the better. They also urged students to take advantage of the fact that mental health services on the Knox campus are free.
“You don’t need to be the professional, there are professionals for that, but encourage folks to learn more, to seek help, to use their resources that are free while you’re here. If you’re talking to people that are here,” Cervantez said. “Make that appointment again.”