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“Why is it still so hard for young people of color to get therapy?”

“My mom is a preacher and she never made me feel like it would be weird [to go to therapy]. But internally, you kind of just have that feeling,” said Jamir Milligan (“Why is it Still so Hard for Young People of Color to Get Therapy,” VICE,  June 4, 2019).

Jamir was a 19-year-old student when he first thought about suicide and tried to find a therapist. But it wasn’t easy. He didn’t have any friends or family who had seen a therapist before, so everything was self-directed and self-motivated. On top of that, he faced growing mental health stigma from his community.

“That feeling, as I and so many other black and brown people know, is centuries’ worth of shame surrounding mental illness – especially depression. Depending on your background, depression and other mental illnesses have been addressed in a plethora of ways, including praying it away in Black, Latinx and South Asian cultures, self-medicating or just ignoring it.”

For many communities of color, there is strong resistance against thinking of mental illness in the same way as medical illness, and seeking help is often seen as weakness. The stigma has grown over many years, and now young people like Jamir are facing the consequences.

And Jamir isn’t alone.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Office of Minority Health, depression is reported as the most common mental health condition across all minorities. The numbers are disheartening :

  • Puerto Ricans reported the highest rate of depression at 40 percent.
  • Black beneficiaries had a 27.1 percent rate of depression nationwide.
  • American Indian and Alaskan Native Medicare beneficiaries reported rates of depression 9 percent greater than white beneficiaries.

Many young people of color who are facing mental health or substance use challenges don’t seek therapy because of the stigma and shame associated with mental illness in their communities. When they do, they have very limited access to the help they need.

Some struggle to find a therapist who understands their cultural background or specific concerns, while others can’t find a therapist within their budget.

According to research from 2016, Black and Latinx Americans have had “persistently lower insurance coverage rates at all ages” and those who do have insurance are more likely to lose it compared to their white counterparts. Then, they have to choose between spending more money than they have or getting the mental health help they need.

Mental Health First Aid can help.

Mental Health First Aid teaches people, including young people of color, how to identify the signs and symptoms of a mental health or substance use challenge, where resources can be found and how to address stigma and talk about it.

After multiple meetings and phone calls, Jamir found a therapist who understands his concerns and fits within his budget. But it shouldn’t be this hard and nobody should have to do it alone. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid and join a community of 1.7 million people who understand and value mental health. Together, we can #BeTheDifference and help each other in the journey to recovery.

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