During BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, we turn our attention to the disparities that certain historically marginalized groups have faced when it comes to access to mental health care. In this focus, we can discern the many ways in which culture and identity can impact the quality of care received. During this month we also recognize the ways in which communities have thrived despite obstacles by forging through with community support, peer counseling, and spirituality as some examples.
As parents and caregivers of all communities know, we are currently experiencing a youth mental health crisis whose effects are exacerbated in historically marginalized communities. As a report from the Aakoma Project demonstrates, more than half of youth surveyed who were Black, Native, Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander, or multi-racial reported symptoms of depression and anxiety, with some in this group reporting significantly high rates of depression and anxiety. The work for the Aakoma Project is notable because it is the first of its kind of reporting that is zeroing in on mental health concerns in historically marginalized communities.
If you are a parent or caregiver from a historically marginalized group, finding care that is going to be supportive of your child can be challenging and maybe even intimidating. Knowing how to advocate for yourself and your child in the process can be a critical piece to feeling supported and confident with your care choices.
Culturally Competent Care
Both you and your child have the right to access care that is culturally competent. When we say culturally competent care, we mean that the provider has knowledge and understanding of the various social, cultural, economic, and historical factors that shape the realities for their patients. Illustrating examples of culturally competent care can look like:
- Having written materials translated and available in the language that is best for you
- Providers asking follow-up questions about your living circumstances to ensure what treatment plan they create will be conducive to your lifestyle
- Practices that offer sliding scale and other supportive measures for individuals with lower socio-economic status
You Are Your Own Expert
Another view that can help individuals advocate for themselves and their children in all care settings is by leading with the notion that you are the expert of you. As an example, if you were in the emergency room, a nurse would likely hold up a pain scale and ask how much pain you are feeling from 1-10. In that experience, you are the only one who knows what number to select.
When receiving mental health care, you are the one who is the expert on what symptoms you are feeling. When we understand that we are the expert of our own experiences, we can work in better collaboration with our doctors and care team.
The reality is that certain communities experience great distrust of medical providers because historically, providers participated in research and treatment that was unethical and abusive. Gaining trust is the role of the provider, but as a care-seeker and as a parent or caregiver we can better advocate for ourselves if we center our own expertise on our own experiences.
Self-Care and Community Care
As parents or caregivers, one of the most important things you can do is model good self-care for your children. Whatever that looks like for you, having an open conversation with your child about how you take care of yourself will set a lifelong example of self-care. It is also important that parents and caregivers demonstrate what community care looks like for them.
Certain communities react differently to mental health care, and some communities see it as stigmatizing to need support. However, communities have been caring for their mental health outside of a Western-European tradition of medical care for years. If there are other traditions that are relevant to how your culture facilitated care, it can be rewarding to pass these traditions and teachings to younger generations. Just as you are your own expert, the wisdom of finding alternative community care has been a longstanding protective factor for historically marginalized communities.