BIPOC Mental Health Month: Providing Culturally-Affirming Mental Health Care

By Sarenka Smith

How can clinical providers support Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities? Here are several strategies you can apply in your practice.

Historically, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities have faced numerous barriers in accessing mental health care. Each July, BIPOC Mental Health Month highlights the unique mental health challenges and needs of BIPOC communities in the United States.

The barriers facing these communities can include financial constraints, limited availability of culturally sensitive services, language barriers and social stigmatization. Systemic racism within our health care systems has been well researched and extensively documented, and this further exacerbates these challenges by perpetuating unequal access to care and contributing to disparities in mental health outcomes.

Addressing the need

Racial inequity in mental health care has severe consequences. Studies consistently demonstrate that marginalized communities experience higher rates of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. The confluence of stressors associated with marginalization puts these Americans at greater risk for the development of eating disorders and other behavioral health conditions.

Yet marginalized communities are less likely to receive adequate treatment or access to appropriate resources -- a disparity that leads to increased distress, exacerbation of symptoms and a higher risk of experiencing a mental health crisis.

Supporting BIPOC communities

To address these disparities and support BIPOC communities in accessing mental health care, several key strategies can be implemented:

  • Practice culturally-affirming care. Mental health providers can receive training in cultural competence to better understand and meet the unique needs of diverse populations. This includes recognizing and addressing cultural biases, providing language access services and integrating culturally relevant treatment approaches.
  • Understand cultural humility. Providers must also understand cultural humility: a lifelong practice of self-reflection about one’s own cultural identities and a commitment to humility, curiosity and flexibility. The purpose of cultural humility is to improve interpersonal outcomes and eliminate disparities across the board, which professionally translates into improved relationships with clients and families.
  • Destigmatize mental health. Promoting public awareness and education about mental health issues within marginalized communities is crucial. This involves challenging cultural stigmas surrounding mental health, fostering open conversations and providing accurate information about available resources.
  • Collaborate and partner with your community. Building strong partnerships between mental health providers and community organizations can help bridge gaps and increase access to mental health services within marginalized communities. Collaborative efforts can result in tailored interventions that address the specific needs and challenges faced by marginalized communities.\

To make their own practices more inclusive, clinicians can also conduct their own visual audits; the images used and the pictures displayed should be inclusive, rather than targeted to one identity group. Connections and reflections to different identity groups help clinicians enhance their own understanding and education.

Read: Becoming a Culturally Competent Clinician

BIPOC mental health support

Most importantly, performing inclusive work requires curiosity, humility, collaboration and a commitment to putting in the work -- all in service of understanding how different lived experiences and social scenarios impact the patient experience. Language is another critical facet of inclusive care, including confirming and using a patient’s correct pronouns.

Making mental health care more equitable and accessible to BIPOC communities requires a multi-faceted and intersectional approach. It demands a commitment to addressing systemic barriers and biases, ensuring equal access to quality care and supporting the unique needs of marginalized communities. By implementing strategies that promote inclusivity, cultural competence and community engagement, we can work toward a future where mental health care is truly equitable, enabling everyone to receive the support they need to thrive.

Taking place on Thursday, August 24 at the 2023 Pathlight Conference on Mental Health from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. MT, the session “Culturally-Affirming Care: Mental Health From the Eye of the Beholder” will feature speakers from the founders of the Institute for Anti-Racism and Equity in Mental Health: Carolyn Coker-Ross, MD, MPH, CEDS; Charlynn Small, PhD, LCP, CEDS-S; Mazella Fuller, PhD, LCSW, CEDS and Norman H. Kim, PhD. Presenters will discuss cultural inclusivity in mental health care, explore authentic allyship that focuses on actions over rhetoric, outline the importance of social justice approaches within clinical work, and focus on applying an antiracism framework to act as allies and advocates for patients with mental health conditions.

At Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center, we’re dedicated to making your experience - and your clients’ - with us as streamlined, helpful and accessible as possible by connecting and sharing resources for eating, mood, anxiety and trauma-related conditions.

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Written by

Sarenka Smith

Sarenka has been voraciously reading & writing since she was a small child. For the past half decade, she has worked in marketing & communications for healthcare-focused organizations and…