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Supporting Minority Mental Health in the Workplace

Directly or indirectly, mental health and substance use challenges affect everyone. But for many people in communities of color, the process of navigating these challenges – especially at work – can be even more difficult.

It is no secret that inequities in the United States have affected everything from access to mental health care to the composition of C-suites and hospitalization rates during COVID-19. After an especially trying year and in observance of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July, we invite employers and Mental Health First Aiders to think honestly about the state of minority mental health in the workplace.

Research shows that in the past year, Black Americans and Hispanic Americans used mental health services half as often as White Americans. For Asian Americas, frequency of use is even less — a third as often. Yet according to a report by McKinsey, diverse employees experienced more acute challenges during COVID-19, including increased workload or difficulties associated with work-life balance. Further, CDC data shows racial and ethnic minority groups were more at risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, due in part to the higher rates of Hispanic and Black or African Americans in frontline industries like service and nursing.

We can and must do more to promote mental health equity in our communities and workplaces.

While far from exhaustive, here are a few ways you can support minority mental health at work:

  1. Companies should strive for more tailored mental health support for underrepresented employee groups. In 2021, a more holistic focus needs to also include the mental health care and support needs of communities of color, as well as other underrepresented employee groups, including people who are LGBTQI, parents and caregivers. This would include ensuring access to mental health care providers who are trained to treat race-based stress/trauma and seeking benefits vendors with a provider network that reflects companies’ workforce diversity.
  2. First Aiders should be aware and considerate of cultural differences. Culture, as we define it in the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum, is the shared patterns of behaviors, interactions, thinking and understanding that are learned through the groups we belong to and identities we hold. Cultural beliefs influence what health means to us every day — our health choices, our behaviors and values about health and health care, where we turn for support, and what we think causes good or bad health. When we remember the connection between health and culture, we can support people experiencing a mental health challenge from the cultural spaces they occupy, instead of the cultural spaces that we occupy. MHFA equips people with the tools they need to start a nonjudgmental dialogue, so more people can get help in any circumstance.
  3. Finally, we can all commit to learning more. Consider checking out the National Council for Mental Wellbeing’s Addressing Health Equity and Racial Justice web page or our Equity Definitions. Be willing to ask questions, and more than that, be willing to listen. Each of us has gone through so much in the last year and a half, but while COVID-19 is something we all know and understand, we don’t necessarily know how it has uniquely impacted our coworkers.
  4. Reach out to learn more about bringing MHFA training to your workplace.

 

References

American Counseling Association Staff. (n.d.). Minority mental health month. https://www.counseling.org/knowledge-center/mental-health-resources/minority-mental-health-month

Ellingrud, K., Krishnan, M., Krivokovich, A., Kukla, K., Mendy, A., Robinson, N., Sancies-Sultan, S., Yee, Kareina. (2020, November 17). Diverse employees are struggling the most during COVID-19—here’s how companies can respond. McKinsey. https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/diversity-and-inclusion/diverse-employees-are-struggling-the-most-during-covid-19-heres-how-companies-can-respond#

Larcker, D.F., Tayan, B. (2020, April 1). Stanford Closer Look Series. Diversity in the c-suite: The dismal state of diversity among Fortune 100 senior executives. Stanford Gradate School of Business. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/diversity-c-suite

Marshall, William F. III, M.D. (2020, August 13). Why are people of color more at risk of coronavirus complications? Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/expert-answers/coronavirus-infection-by-race/faq-20488802

Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.

National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD), Division of Viral Diseases. (2021, April 19). Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. Centers for Disease Control. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html#print

National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (n.d.). Addressing health equity and racial justice. https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/center-for-consulting-training/addressing-health-equity-and-racial-justice/

National Council for Mental Wellbeing. (n.d.) Equity definitions. https://www.thenationalcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/TI-ROC-Equity-Definitions-.pdf?daf=375ateTbd56