BIPOC Mental Health

Image from NAMI Seattle

In the last four months, our country has faced a barrage of racism and fear due to COVID-19. In addition to the pandemic, the death of George Floyd has fueled a movement to call out systematic racism and police brutality and demand justice. While teens all over the country are seeing and feeling the effects of these events, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) teens need support more than ever, which is why we need to talk about BIPOC Mental Health Month.

According to Mental Health America (MHA):

“Formally recognized in June 2008, Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed each July and was created to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States.

Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities.

People and language evolve, and Mental Health America (MHA) has chosen to remove the word “minority” from our toolkit and will be phasing it out on our materials. Instead, we are using a different designation – BIPOC – that we believe more fairly honors and distinguishes the experiences of Blacks, Indigenous People, and People of Color.

In an effort to continue the visionary work of Bebe Moore Campbell, each year MHA develops a public education campaign dedicated to addressing the needs of BIPOC.”

On January 9, 2020, Rhonda Boyd, PhD, from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Policy Lab, stated “[f]rom 1991 to 2017, suicide attempts in Black teens increased by an alarming 73%. In the last decade alone, the suicide rate for Black youth rose from 2.55 per 100,000 to 4.82 per 100,000, a rate that is increasing faster than any other racial/ethnic group.” In 2017, the Office of Minority Health published that death by “suicide among Asian Youth (age 15-24) was leading cause of death where the overall death by suicide of Asian American half that of the non-Hispanic white population.”

As for Latinx youth, Mental Health America has stated that “[s]uicidal thoughts, plans, and attempts are also rising among Latinx/Hispanic young adults. While still lower than the overall U.S. population aged 18-25, 8.6 percent (650,000) of Latinx/Hispanic 18-25 year-olds had serious thoughts of suicide in 2018, compared to 7 percent (402,000) in 2008. ” Lastly, the National Indian Council on Aging published that ” Native youth ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death; and the Native youth suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the overall national average, making these rates the highest across all ethnic and racial groups.”

Why is this important? Based on these statistics above, teen library staff has the opportunity to provide teens with a safe space to open up about their feelings and provide them with resources to educate and empower themselves. Sadly, BIPOC youth face a variety of factors that may prevent them from discussing their mental health to accessing care and that is where libraries can help.  Here’s a little context about the history of BIPOC people and mental health care from mental health clinician, Tahmi Perzichilli:

For nearly four decades, the mental health field has been called to focus on increasing cultural competency training, which has focused on the examination of provider attitudes/beliefs and increasing cultural awareness, knowledge and skills.

Despite such efforts, racial disparities still exist even after controlling for factors such as income, insurance status, age, and symptom presentation.Established barriers for BIPOC are the following:

  • Different cultural perceptions about mental illness, help-seeking behaviors and well-being
  • Racism and discrimination
  • Greater vulnerability to being uninsured, access barriers, and communication barriers
  • Fear and mistrust of treatment

One area not often noted is the historical (and traumatic) context of systemic racism within the institution of mental health, although it is well known that race and insanity share a long and troubled past. This focus may begin to account for how racial differences shape treatment encounters, or a lack thereof, even when barriers are controlled for and the explicit races of the provider and client are not at issue.

While this information may not be new, it’s important to note that systematic racism goes beyond what we see in the media and in books. In fact, it reaches into every nook and cranny of our society and it has even found its way into libraries. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, this prejudice has created so many barriers that generations upon generations have been affected that have not only lead to many premature deaths, but has forced young BIPOC youth to carry these scars.

So what can libraries do to help BIPOC youth? Although COVID-19 has forced some of our libraries to close until further notice, now is the time to use social media and virtual programming to discuss BIPOC mental health with teens as most of them are stuck at home and looking for something to do. Here are a couple ideas that you can try:

  • Host an art contest on Instagram and theme it around BIPOC mental health
  • Encourage teens to record a TikTok short about mental health and share it on the library’s social media outlets
  • Have teens submit original songs to be posted on the library’s YouTube
  • Host a meetup up Twitch and play Undertale
  • Partner with local advocacy groups to host a virtual summit on Google Hangouts or Zoom that will empower young BIPOC people to advocate  for their mental health and their civil rights via online gathering

If you think these ideas may not be feasible,or you don’t have access to social media, try incorporating this topic into your collections. If you have an online resource guide, provide teens with fiction and nonfiction book recommendations. Also, be sure to beef you your collections by selecting titles from BIPOC YA authors and adding nonfiction titles that will help teens . If you are currently hosting virtual book clubs, select a title featuring BIPOC teens and really dig into the issues these teens are facing, which will bring a little levity to the conversation. While this may be uncomfortable at first, and depending on the demographics of your book club, this is a chance from some really great conversation to not only destigmatize mental illness, but to break down the stereotypes and the misinformation about BIPOC people.

Whatever you choose to do, no matter how big or small, the goal is to reach out to BIPOC teens during this difficult time. Furthermore, this is a time to empower non-BIPOC teens allies to educate and support their BIPOC peers, which is not only beneficial to these teens, but to the overall health of the teen community.

For more information about BIPOC Mental Health Month, check out the following resources:

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Senior Librarian for the Monterey Park Bruggemeyer Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for seventeen years and loves every minute. Deborah is also the author of "Serving Teens with Mental Illness at the Library: A Practical Guide."

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