BIPOC Mental Health Resources: How to Support the BIPOC Community

By Kyle Hardner

Individuals who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) often face unique roadblocks and stigma when seeking mental health care. Each July, BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month aims to reduce this stigma and increase mental health support within these communities.

“Racial and ethnic minority groups face stressors that can compromise their mental health,” says Jenni Orocio-Reyna, MA, LPC (she/her/hers), clinical manager at Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center (ERC Pathlight). “If we can bring more awareness to the need for accessibility to health care, as well as diverse and culturally competent health care workers, we can save many lives.”

To help raise awareness, four of our ERC Pathlight clinical experts share what they wish other people knew about mental health for people of color.

Barriers to mental health care for BIPOC individuals

According to numerous published studies on BIPOC mental health, individuals in these communities are far less likely to seek mental health care than those in other groups. Shame and stigma, finances, transportation and language are common barriers.

“Many times, when it comes to seeking support, people say, ‘Why don’t they just see someone’ or ‘It’s not really that hard,’” says Vianey Irineo, LMFT (she/her/hers), program therapist for child and adolescent services at ERC Pathlight. “But providers must realize there are many different layers. Seeking treatment isn’t always as linear as it may appear to be.”

Trust -- or lack thereof -- toward the health care system and providers is another common barrier. To overcome this, “It’s important for providers to have an open stance to understanding another’s perspective, be mindful of their own preconceived judgments and form a safe space to talk about mental health,” says Holly Kinget, MD (she/her/hers), our child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist at ERC Pathlight.

In some cases, building trust means connecting BIPOC individuals with BIPOC mental health providers. “Often individuals look for a therapist who looks similar to them in terms of ethnic background or who speaks the same language,” Irineo says.

The health impact of racism, discrimination and marginalization

The historical context of racism, discrimination and marginalization plays a huge role in BIPOC mental health. To explain why, Kyle Woodson, MA, LPC (he/him/his), clinical manager of child and adolescent eating disorder services at ERC Pathlight, uses the analogy of a staircase, where everyone exists on different awareness levels about diversity, inclusion and belonging.

“BIPOC individuals move up the stairs -- often not by choice, but due to lived experiences,” Woodson says. “Non-BIPOC individuals may or may not be exposed to these experiences. This means that BIPOC individuals have to climb down the stairs to meet non-BIPOC individuals where they are, then move back up the stairs to their prior location. This can become incredibly tiring and ultimately detrimental.”

Because racism, discrimination and marginalization are ingrained in a BIPOC individual’s day-to-day experiences, it’s vital that providers understand the historical and present-day context of these issues -- and their impact -- fully.

“If a BIPOC individual starts the therapy process with a non-BIPOC clinician who is not culturally trained and they are met with racism inside the room, it will be damaging and will make them less inclined to continue therapy,” Irineo says.

Trauma and mental health in BIPOC communities

“The impacts of trauma in BIPOC communities are often complex, intergenerational, and perpetuate fear, avoidance and maladaptive ways of coping,” Dr. Kinget explains.

“Being a mental health therapist and a Latina, I can empathize with and validate a lot of struggles that BIPOC individuals face,” shares Orocio-Reyna. She offers an example of a childhood environment where parents or authority figures say things like “don’t cry,” “toughen up” or “nothing’s wrong.” This can lead to eating disorders, substance use and other unhealthy ways of coping to numb feelings that aren’t accepted or allowed to be expressed, she explains.

The key takeaway for providers, Woodson says, is to understand intersectionality -- a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989 and defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations as they apply to an individual or group. “For example, an individual who identifies as a Black female may navigate racism, sexism and other trauma that increase her likelihood of developing anxiety or depression,” Woodson says.

How professionals can support BIPOC mental health

Our experts offer these action steps to mental health professionals who care for BIPOC individuals:

Orocio-Reyna: “Begin with proximity and awareness. Start conversations with people from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Ask questions and actively listen without judgment.”

Dr. Kinget: “Increase accessibility to care for the BIPOC community. Educate the community on resources available to improve access. Implement cultural competency among practitioners and increase the number of practitioners who serve the community.”

Woodson: “Examine your own implicit biases. All brains develop habits of creating pre-conceived judgments to make decisions quickly. Harm can occur if we don’t have awareness of these biases. While it can be difficult to examine our own relationship to racism, sexism or xenophobia, it’s an essential first step in individual growth.”

Irineo: “Immerse yourself in communities of different cultures by attending events hosted by BIPOC individuals. Non-BIPOC clinicians should seek continuing education courses on multiculturalism.”

Learn how to work with people in marginalized communities.

BIPOC mental health resources

The following nonprofit organizations provide resources that professionals and community members can use to enhance their awareness of mental health in the BIPOC community.

Loveland Foundation – Established by Rachel Cargle, the Loveland Foundation is committed to showing up for communities of color in unique and powerful ways, with a focus on Black women and girls. Reach out to [email protected] for information on their next peer support group, in partnership with ERC Pathlight.

Black Mental Wellness – Founded by Black licensed clinical psychologists, Black Mental Wellness provides evidence-based information and resources about behavioral health topics to increase the diversity of mental health professionals and decrease stigma.

Kevin Berthia Foundation – Berthia is a suicide survivor, advocate and coach who shares his story. He gives a voice of hope to individuals that suffer in silence with both undiagnosed and diagnosed mental health conditions. Hear his story.

Asian Mental Health Project – Founded in 2019 by Carrie Zhang, a survivor of sexual violence, the Asian Mental Health Project uses social media, multimedia content and community events to raise awareness of Asian American mental health. Hear her story.

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Written by

Kyle Hardner

Kyle Hardner is a writer and content strategist based in Pennsylvania. He's led content development and creation for leading health systems and has extensive expertise writing about healthcare,…