BIPOC Mental Health Month

Every July, BIPOC Mental Health Month is observed to bring awareness to the mental health needs and struggles of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color in the United States. Originally, this month was named Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month when it was formally recognized in June of 2008. Bebe Moore Campbell, a trailblazer in the mental health community, worked to spread awareness about the specific mental health needs of the Black community, as well as other underrepresented communities. She pushed for equal access to mental health care services that catered to the unique struggles of many communities.

While the month is still officially named after Bebe, most have begun using BIPOC (Black, Indigenious, People of Color). As of July 2020, BIPOC Mental Health is the preferred title used by MHA (Mental Health America) and the general public.

Barriers to Care

Within BIPOC communities, many individuals struggle to receive adequate mental health care. The most obvious barrier to proper mental health care is financial stability. Many individuals that need mental health services are unable to afford them often due to insufficient insurance or lack of insurance altogether. Even with decent insurance, the care may be lower quality or services could be ended prematurely due to any number of financial reasons. 

A general lack of diversity in the mental health industry also contributes to unequitable mental health care. In 2015, approximately 86% of psychologists in the United States were White. This lack of diversity can lead to misunderstandings and create a gap in experiences. Racism and discrimination can fester in such an environment, leading to a distrust. Language barriers also go hand-in-hand with this lack of diversity as English may not be the first language of many BIPOC individuals, and so there is a disconnect between provider and patient at the most basic level.

Lack of diversity in the mental health field has led to a clear shortage of culturally competent providers. Culturally competent and trauma-informed care attempts to close the gap between mental health care providers and those that they serve. Many providers may not fully understand the experiences of their patients, such as incidents involving racism, discrimination, and other race-based trauma, and how those experiences affect overall mental health. This gap can potentially lead to a decreased quality of care, as well as microaggressions, power dynamics, or biases which can further deteriorate the mental health of the patient.

Even if these barriers were addressed, there is still not a guarantee that BIPOC communities would utilize mental health services more. Cultural stigmas against mental illness as well as the belief that mental illness is a personal failing or a weakness can lead to a lack of diagnosis or treatment. Symptoms that arise may be brushed off as unimportant or repressed and ignored, creating a bigger problem later on. Cultural stigma may lead to an individual becoming wary to ask for help or feel guilty for reaching out for using available services.

Effects on Mental Health

Resources to Recover has compiled statistics on the impact of mental health services or lack thereof in the United States. The following facts showcase the inequity in the American health system:

  • Black adults are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems.
  • American Indians/Alaskan Natives report higher rates of posttraumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence than any other ethnic/racial group.
  • In 2019, suicide was the second leading cause of death for Black young adults (ages 15 to 24), and for Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders in the same age group, suicide was the leading cause of death.
  • In 2015, 46% of White individuals with any mental illness received treatment for mental illness, while only 30% of Black people and 27% of Hispanics with any mental illness received treatment.
  • BIPOC who identify as being 2 or more races were more likely to report having a mental illness in 2021 than any other community.

Moving Forward

BIPOC Mental Health Month not only calls attention to the inequity found in mental health care, but also challenges clinicians and individuals to call for more equitable practices. In order to provide equitable care, the lack of available services in BIPOC communities must be addressed. From there, educational programs must provide clinicians with training in cultural competency to better understand the mental health struggles of diverse communities. 

To build trust between practitioners and the community, culturally-based mental health practices can also be enacted. These practices promote healing through recognition of historical trauma, reclamation of honor and pride of ancestors, and recognition of the power that exists as a connected community. Some universities and providers have begun offering more psychological services curated specifically for BIPOC individuals and their unique experiences.

Through the promotion of stronger practices and increased access to care, BIPOC Mental Health Month works to bring change to mental health care practices.

This blog was written by STM Learning’s editorial staff for educational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific medical or legal advice. For expert information on the discussed subjects, please refer to STM Learning’s publications.


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