July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month! In celebration, we did a Q&A with NAMI San Mateo County’s Outreach Coordinator, Loren Shea, to share more information about minority mental health, NAMI San Mateo County’s services, and ways you can promote mental health awareness in your community.
What is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month?
Minority mental health month is an opportunity to be mindful of allowing the space to validate the experiences and increased challenges that those who identify as a minority might face while going through a mental health crisis. Mental health awareness can often be focused on those who do not identify as minorities. It is important to have a month dedicated to voices less often heard. This is a reminder for majority groups to open their ears and minds and take a step back to allow for the voices of minorities to take center stage.
From the early days of parental advocacy for better treatment and diagnosis of schizophrenia to today, how did NAMI grow from such a small chapter that began in San Mateo into a nationwide organization?
NAMI started in 1979 by several family members of loved ones with a diagnosis. They were tired of being blamed for their child’s mental health challenges so they started NAMI as an advocacy, support and educational group. To this day, NAMI still operates as a grassroots organization by the strength of volunteers and by collecting ideas from the community. Our efforts to have our entire community contribute to our efforts rather than have only paid staff is how we can remain inclusive and spread our span of support.
Where is NAMI in the evolution of advocacy in mental health rights, access, and treatment in this modern age of medicine?
NAMI has come a long way since its beginning. Since the start of NAMI, we have witnessed the deinstitutionalization of many individuals living with mental health challenges and major strides in the way mental health diagnoses are treated and viewed. More work places are open to discussions about mental health and more health care and human service professionals are trained in learning the signs of and screening for mental health conditions. It is more widely being recognised that mental and physical health goes hand in hand and one can cause or put strain on the other. Of course, there are more changes we would like to see, such as better access for minority populations, destigmatization in media, less stigma within the medical community and increased recognition of early signs of mental health challenges in youth.
NAMI San Mateo is currently focusing on expanding accessibility with our educational materials and programming by adding more literature in a wider variety of languages. We are also focusing on incorporating mental health curriculum in schools with transition ages youth as it is beginning to be understood that early intervention can give individuals a better chance of getting the most out of recovery.
How can mental health treatment and access, especially for minority communities, be delivered to those who need it most?
NAMI is mindful of our accessibility for minority communities. We are cognizant of cultural competency in our practices by offering programming and literature in a few different languages and when we cannot do that ourselves, we partner with agencies that focus on specific minority groups that host a wider variety of services than what we can support in-house.
A big part of NAMI is our peer support services which means we provide programs for individuals with mental health challenges and are led by individuals with shared experiences. We believe for someone to support someone else through their unique journey, it is more effective when they share similar interests, ideologies and backgrounds.
As a minority female myself with a history of mental health challenges, I know that certain aspects of my recovery are unique to my culture. It was helpful for me when I was able to talk with other individuals of the same cultural background in support groups because they understand the challenges I faced specific to my family and the way my culture views schizophrenia and the importance of work in daily life.
NAMI San Mateo hires diverse staff and keeps diversity within our board in order to have representation for all individuals that may utilize our services. We hope everyone that participates can have the authentic connection that we all deserve
What does NAMI do every year to promote/celebrate Minority MHAM? Does the NAMI San Mateo Chapter do anything in the Bay Area?
Minority Mental Health Month is promoted at NAMI by focusing our events and publications around the topic. Each affiliate hosts general meetings periodically where a speaker is chosen to give a talk about an issue relevant to our community. During Minority Mental Health Month, we have a guest speaker who focuses on issues specific to minority populations. We may also feature MHAM specific pieces in our newsletters.
What are some more common mental health issues minority groups face?
Many minority groups face stigma within their families when experiencing mental health challenges. In some cultures, mental illness does not exist or it is seen as taboo. In my culture, many people are very religious. Mental illness can be interpreted as more of a spiritual crisis than a medical condition.
Minority groups as well as any marginalized groups can be more heavily impacted by mental illness because of the condition itself in addition to hardships they face due to their identity. Having mental health challenges as a minority can be even more difficult due to racial injustice and inequality in our society. We see that discrimination and alienation can significantly negatively affect someone’s mental health and wellbeing.
What are some ways the community can help share resources and spread awareness?
We can support each other, share resources and spread awareness just by being a good neighbor and a good friend. We can learn to humble ourselves and accept one another regardless of our differences. We make some of the biggest changes through acceptance. By engaging with one another in a kind, compassionate matter—while practicing physical distancing—we can begin to see change in our world and spread awareness of the beauty that is what makes each of us unique.
To learn more about NAMI San Mateo County, click here.