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Communities of Color and Mental Health

1400622274536It is always interesting to speak with my relatives when an egregious act of violence occurs, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December 2012. They are always so disheartened about the mindset of an individual who can perpetrate such a horrible act. When I mentioned that this particular perpetrator, Adam Lanza, suffered from considerable mental disorder including possible undiagnosed schizophrenia, the response was something to the effect of, “Okay, so he was crazy.”

That’s it. He was crazy. I love my family dearly, but it saddens me as to how misinformed some of my relatives are about mental health. Notice that I say “misinformed” as opposed to “ignorant” because to me, being ignorant means you are willingly disregarding the information provided to you. But that is the issue: communities of color, in many cases, are not well-informed, if informed at all, about mental health. That is what drives the negative stereotypes that are highly prevalent within communities of color.

It is important to start off with the elephant in the room: this idea that mental disorder is something only White people deal with and that only White people can “afford” to be crazy. Given the prevailing historical (and current) context in which individuals of color deal with the simultaneous detrimental effects of institutional racism as well as lower socioeconomic status, I completely understand the notion that many simply do not have the time and energy to think about their mental health. If their “mind is right” and they can “think straight,” they keep it moving.

However, that could not be further from the truth. Reports from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in 2012 showed that the prevalence of serious mental illness among Black adults was comparable to that of White adults—3.4 percent to 4.2 percent—and that Latinos (4.4%) had the second-highest prevalence after American Indians/Alaska Natives. If anything, communities of color need to pay more attention to their mental health given the societal barriers that we are unfortunately born behind, as research has shown that these are legitimate risk factors that contribute to the onset of mental disorders. (Read more at https://www.rwjf.org/en/blog/2014/05/communities_of_color.html )

 

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