By: Corinne Cavender, Behavioral Health Operations Coordinator
I’ve been writing about mental health for a while now. I’ve been an advocate in the field since I can remember. However, I can honestly say the interview we did for this month’s Mental Health Matters KOTO Access show changed my outlook on the topic for the better, likely for the rest of my life.
María Albañil-Rangel and Valentina Estrella Roa joined me to discuss BIPOC Mental Health Month. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. The month is dedicated to recognizing the unique struggles that underrepresented individuals face when accessing mental health services or talking about mental health issues. The pair works on Tri-County Health Network’s multicultural advocacy team and has been fighting for representation for our Latinx community on all fronts, not just mental health.
María described how the month of advocacy came to be, explaining “It was started by an incredible, amazing woman, Bebe Moore Campbell, a Black, renowned author who was a true advocate for BIPOC mental health. The month tries to promote public awareness of mental health issues, specifically among communities of color. It looks to see what this piece of intersectionality really looks like, not only the unique challenges and stigmas in the BIPOC community but also the identities within that”.
What does this “intersectionality” mean? Both María and Valentina described the many identities they hold that interconnect to create more opportunities for disadvantage. For example, Valentina explained that she used to be undocumented and identifies as Latina and a woman. All three of those groups separately face discrimination, and when you combine them in one person, the chances for inequity skyrocket.
Though these inequities are common, there is a huge gap in mental health resources for BIPOC individuals. Linguistically and culturally, there are many barriers to mental health care. María highlighted how once she was able to access counseling from a Latina woman like herself, she was able to finally open up to someone who actually understood. Access to this kind of care is rare, however. “As BIPOC individuals, we go through life never being able to turn off who we are. We shouldn’t have to, but we always are in the state of trying to explain and defend. So having linguistically and culturally appropriate services makes a world of a difference,” shared María.
Valentina agrees that more needs to be done for BIPOC mental health services to be equitable. She explained, “The San Miguel Behavioral Health Solutions Panel has made wonderful strides toward equitable access, but as María mentioned, there is a long way to go”. Valentina described the Interpreter Program that the Solutions Panel recently approved. It hopes to bring in trauma-informed and mental health trained interpreters into mental health settings to help our Spanish speakers access counseling, as there is no in-person bilingual or bicultural therapist in the region. “These clients aren’t really comfortable with a virtual platform, and then the idea of disclosing something so personal to two individuals at once [the therapist and interpreter] is taxing. However, we are aware of these barriers, and this program is a first step in continuing to make strides for equitable access”.
It was in this next part of the interview that my eyes widened and filled with tears. María shared a quote from Bebe Moore Campbell that goes as follows:
“While everyone – all colors – everyone is affected by stigma – no one wants to say, ‘I’m not in control of my mind.’ No one wants to say, ‘The person I love is not in control of [their] mind.’ But people of color really don’t want to say it because we already feel stigmatized by virtue of skin color or eye shape or accent and we don’t want any more reasons for anyone to say, ‘You’re not good enough.'”
As a white woman myself, I think this is the first moment where I understood, or at least empathized with, how much harder BIPOC individuals must fight for equitable mental health care and how much harder BIPOC individuals must fight to be open about their mental health.
So, as a white person, how can I be an ally? How can I fight for equitable mental health resources and services for all? Valentina answered this question by explaining, “First you must recognize your power. If you are an individual who is a leader within an organization or in an organization that serves the community, educate yourself on cultural humility. Donate to behavioral health initiatives. Take Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion trainings, Mental Health First Aid, and safeTALK.” María added to not forget the personal work. “It is important that we recognize our own implicit biases and what that may mean. We need to be a community that deliberately wants to understand everyone else’s experiences”.
We have a long way to go, but I am empowered by individuals like María and Valentina who are willing to talk about the barriers BIPOC individuals face and who are excited to tackle these issues head-on.
Listen to the full interview here: