It’s National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and I can’t stop thinking about how taboo mental health is in some of our communities. I remember growing up in Latin America in the late 90s and hearing stories about people being tied up to trees or being kept inside a small dark room because they needed to be kept under control. It is almost as if people regressed to a 19th-century mentality when it comes to mental illness.
During that period, many people with mental illness in the Americas were confined to asylums or were poorly monitored by their families. Treatments were typically unhealthy, painful, and ineffective. Patients were even subjected to lobotomies as a means to remedy a mental illness.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then. As a kid, listening to these accounts made me think people with mental illness were less than. I thought I should stay away from people exhibiting certain behaviors at all costs. There was a sense of fear that arose from the adults around me. Even if I myself exhibited any signs of mental illness, I learned early on not to disclose it.
As I grew up, I saw the many ranges of humanity, its complexity, and its wide-ranging spectrum. I realized there was so much more than putting people in boxes. Now, as an adult dealing with anxiety and depression, I think society has gotten it all wrong.
Even in 2023, some people in my community still act frightened or apathetic if someone has a mental illness. The truth is that mental illnesses affect millions of individuals worldwide, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or social status. In the United States alone, 1 out of every 5 youth ages 13-18 experience a serious mental illness and every 1 in 25 adults lives with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression.
Yet, mental illness is often stigmatized by people who do not understand that they too can decline in mental health depending on their life circumstances. It’s a part of life, but it’s also taboo in many of our communities, especially in that of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).
Due to a lack of mental health services and cultural stigma, some racial and ethnic minorities suffer poor mental health outcomes. It wouldn't be possible to talk about minority mental health without acknowledging the historical trauma and displacement BIPOC individuals have experienced
This National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to highlight people who have dealt with mental health and risen above uncertainty, pain, and shame. They serve as an inspiration to us all, showing that it is possible to triumph over our obstacles and achieve our dreams. Just because someone has a mental health disorder or is dealing with trauma, doesn’t mean they can’t function in society, nor that they are doomed to live a life of misery. On the contrary, acknowledging our mental health liberates us to be our very best selves.
Many BIPOC celebrities have experienced mental health issues in the limelight, which can be even more detrimental. Despite these difficulties, they have been able to rise above. Their stories are a testament to the strength we possess as humans, and a reminder that we can all have a chance to persevere in the face of adversity.
Mariah Carey is a well-known artist who has achieved worldwide fame and success for her music career, which spans over three decades. However, she has also become known for being open about her struggle with bipolar disorder. Carey spoke about how she struggled with the condition for years before seeking help.
Carey was first diagnosed in 2001 but didn't fully accept the diagnosis until much later. She lived in silence because of the shame and stigma associated with mental illness, which was slowly destroying her. Mariah Carey's openness about her bipolar disorder diagnosis has been a positive step towards raising awareness and breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Another icon is Jean-Michel Basquiat, a Haitian- Puerto Rican-American artist who died of a heroin overdose. Based on the work he did, it is very likely that he suffered trauma or depression. Despite a tumultuous childhood, and being unhoused, Basquiat became a prominent figure in the art world.
He was known for his unique style and powerful messages. His work continues to be celebrated and admired today. It has been featured in galleries and museums all over the world, and his legacy lives on. His story is a testament to perseverance in the face of adversity.
As a professional tennis player, Naomi Osaka is well known for her aggressive play and powerful serve. Osaka has also become an activist for mental health awareness, especially in sports, over the past year. In May 2021, Osaka withdrew from the French Open, citing her struggles with depression and anxiety.
She was fined for not participating in press conferences, which added to her stress and anxiety. In a Twitter post, she explained, "I've often felt that people have no regard for athletes' mental health and this rings true whenever I see a press conference or partake in one." The fact that Osaka was prioritizing her mental health sparked a conversation about how athletes are pressured, especially in high-profile sports like tennis.
As a young college football player, Johnson struggled with depression after his first marriage. He found solace in talking to close friends and family, learning to recognize the signs of depression, and taking care of his mental well-being. He now encourages everyone, and especially men, to seek help or to talk to someone they trust.
In an NPR article, Constance Wu expressed that she became suicidal after receiving backlash for a comment she had made regarding ABC’s sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. Wu expressed how much shame she had felt for being vocal and felt responsible for how the public was viewing her entire community. . Wu felt the pressure to excel and succeed to make up for the stereotypes their families and communities face. This can also lead to isolation, as many immigrants are afraid to open up about their experiences for fear of judgment or retribution.
Halle Berry, who has dealt with depression, and Amanda Seales, who has spoken about her experiences with anxiety. Actor and singer Jhene Aiko has spoken about her struggles with bipolar disorder, while Musician Kid Cudi has been open about his battle with anxiety and depression. These celebrities have used their platform to raise awareness and destigmatize mental health issues. They are leading the way for more honest conversations about mental health and inspiring others to seek help.
Many resources are available to help manage mental health, such as therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Since everyone's mental health needs vary, it's important to find the right combination of resources that is appropriate for you. For more information on resources available, please visit Minority Mental Health Resources.