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Black History Month: Focusing on Mental Health and Wellness

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Health Tips

Black History Month: Focusing on Mental Health and Wellness

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader.

Black History Month is a nationally and federally recognized observance that occurs every February. Many nonprofits, federal organizations, museums, college campuses, and community groups offer specific events, educational opportunities, special assemblies, and more to honor this month each year.

One often highlighted area of focus for Black History Month in more recent years is mental health for Black communities. This may include awareness of common mental health challenges due to the lived experiences of being a person of color in the United States, as well as disparities in the availability and quality of mental health care. Learning how you can care for your own mental health or be an ally in this way during February can be valuable ways to get involved.

Tips for caring for your mental health as a Black American

Mental health is an important area to focus on during Black History Month for many. Over seven million Black or African American adults reported living with a mental illness in 2018, and Mental Health America states that Black individuals are more likely to experience feelings of hopelessness, to experience psychological distress due to poverty, and to die by suicide.

In combination with the fact that quality, compassionate, cultural- and trauma-informed mental healthcare is often unavailable to Black communities, the topic of mental health awareness and resources becomes even more important during this month and year-round. The following are a few strategies to consider when it comes to caring for your mental health as a Black individual.

Cultivate social support

Social connection is a core component of the human experience, and research suggests that it plays a significant role in both mental and physical health. Cultivating and/or leaning on a healthy circle of friends and loved ones can allow you to reap these benefits and get support from people who understand your experience and care for you. If you have culturally significant practices or traditions in your Afro-American family, you might also consider partaking in them in February to honor your heritage and familial social connections.

Practice self-love

Self-love can be a healthy component of mental wellness. Practices like mindfulness have been statistically associated with increased levels of self-compassion. Other techniques to increase your own levels of self-love might include setting boundaries, setting aside time for rest, speaking positive affirmations, and seeking any physical and mental health care you may need. Studies also show that past experiences with racism are associated with more significant levels of shame and lower self-esteem, which disproportionately affects black folks. Understanding this factor may help you make informed decisions on self-care specific to your identity, needs, and past experiences.

Connect with the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) community

One Pew Research study found that 57% of non-Hispanic Black adults in the United States say that “where they currently live is extremely or very important to how they think about themselves” in terms of identity. This finding suggests that having a supportive community of other people of color around you can be beneficial for social and even mental health.

Learn about mental health challenges faced by Black communities

Understanding how those in your community may be impacted by mental health conditions, suicide, substance use, and other topics—especially as a result of the lived experiences of being a person of color in the United States—may also help you be a better ally in February and beyond. You can educate yourself and help raise awareness for these challenges in an effort to promote better availability of mental health care for Black communities.

Below are a few related statistics from Resources to Recover (RTOR) to provide context on the effects of mental health on Afro-American survival:

  • Black Americans are 20% more likely than other groups to experience a significant mental health diagnosis like major depressive disorder.
  • African Americans have the highest lifetime rate of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at 8.7%.
  • While people with mental illness who are incarcerated tend to experience mistreatment and medical neglect, people of color in this situation are even less likely to receive proper care.
  • 80% of Black Americans feel that stigma around mental health discourages them from seeking support through a therapist.
  • Those identifying with two or more races are more likely to experience a mental health condition than any other racial or ethnic group.

Black History Month offers an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Black individuals and communities throughout history. It can also be a time to raise awareness for resources that can benefit the African American community, including mental health resources for the unique challenges they may face due to their lived experiences as people of color in the United States.

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