Looking back at the past year, I can honestly say that navigating the global pandemic was one of the most difficult experiences in my life. Not only was I worried about my family’s safety — especially that of my husband and father who went to work every day throughout the pandemic — I was thrust into a new routine that included working from home while caring for my three-year-old toddler. If I could choose one word to describe it, I’d pick “chaos.”
Some days were worse than others, and I’ll never forget one particularly challenging day. My husband came home and immediately noticed that I was frustrated and overwhelmed. While he tried to comfort me, I just wanted to be left alone. Once I’d calmed down, he suggested that talking with a therapist might help with my stress.
I was so offended. Without even thinking about it, I yelled, “I don’t need help. I’m not crazy!”
After a few minutes, I started thinking about what I’d said and regretted it. First, I felt bad for my husband who was just trying to help. Second, I wondered why I reacted so negatively. I am not opposed to mental health support.
Then it hit me: I was just repeating what I’d heard so frequently growing up.
The Mentality Around Mental Health
Growing up in a Hispanic household, mental health wasn’t something we discussed or prioritized. I was expected to “tough it out” and just deal with my issues or problems on my own. Unlike going to the doctor for a physical ailment, getting help for mental health wasn’t an option.
In fact, mental health treatment was viewed as something for “gente que son loco” (people who are crazy). Honestly, a lot of people in my family dismissed mental health professionals altogether.
Similarly, my husband — who is African American — also grew up with a negative perception of seeking help for mental health. Apparently, it wasn’t something his family talked about either. He was taught that he just needed to “Man up” whenever he encountered a difficulty or challenge.
As we’ve gotten older (and hopefully wiser), we’ve both realized that mental health matters! It’s an important part of your overall health that needs to be taken care of. Most importantly, there’s no shame in seeking and getting help — that’s what we’ll be teaching our daughter.
Let’s Talk Facts
In many minority groups, there’s still a stigma around talking about mental health. On top of that, inequalities in mental health care in minority communities make things more difficult. According to The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are:
- Less likely to have access to mental health services
- Less likely to use community mental health services
- More likely to use emergency departments
- More likely to receive lower quality care
Poor mental health care access and quality of care contribute to poor mental health outcomes, including suicide, among racial and ethnic minority populations.
In honor of National Minority Mental Health month, it’s time to start breaking down these barriers, especially in minority communities. Let’s start with some mental health myth busting.
Myth: Mental health problems don’t affect me.
Fact: Mental health problems are actually very common and can affect anyone. About one of every five people will experience a mental health condition in a given year. These include anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. While some illnesses have a genetic risk, mental illness affects people of all ages, races, and income levels, whether or not there is a family history.
Myth: A person is either mentally healthy or mentally ill.
Fact: A person who is generally mentally healthy may experience emotional problems, changes in behavior, or have strained and unhealthy relationships with others. A person who is diagnosed with a mental illness may experience moments of clarity and be highly functional. The presence of illness does not always impede upon one’s ability to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Myth: Mental illness is a sign of weakness. People with mental health problems can snap out of it if they try hard enough.
Fact: Mental illness is not caused by personal weakness or laziness, nor can it be cured by positive thinking or willpower. Mental illnesses create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems. Proper treatment is needed to get better.
Myth: Mental illness isn’t real.
Fact: No one would choose to have a mental illness, just as no one would choose to have a physical illness. The causes for mental health conditions are intensively studied and they are real. For anyone living with a mental health condition, their specific symptoms may not always be visible to an untrained observer. It can be challenging to relate to what people with mental health conditions are going through, but that doesn’t mean that their condition isn’t real.
Myth: People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.
Fact: Most people with mental illness are not violent. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it because so many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.
Now that you know the facts, there’s no need to suffer in silence or be ashamed. It’s important to talk about mental health to remove the stigma and even more important to take care of your mental health as part of your overall health.
Get help now
You’re not alone — none of us are perfect. We all experience moments of mental health distress. The important thing is getting help when you need it.
If you continue to experience distress, it’s important to recognize that you may need professional help. Therapy, and in some cases medication, may help treat your condition. If you don’t know where to start, contact your primary care provider.
If you or someone you know needs immediate support, Healthy Minds Philly has compiled a list of resources to help you connect with professional, peer, social, and community support. Check it out because your mental health matters! Spread the word.
Addressing Mental Health Disparities
As the region’s largest health insurance organization, Independence Blue Cross (Independence) is committed to addressing health disparities and the social determinants of health that impact minority communities. Here are some of things we’re doing across the community to fight health disparities:
- Know Your Mind. Independence launched a new mental health public awareness campaign to educate the community about symptoms of depression and anxiety, and how to help themselves and others during these emotionally challenging times. The campaign includes a special focus on the millennial generation (ages 25-40), one-third of whom have a behavioral health condition.
- The Well City Challenge. The Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Independence launched the Well City Challenge to address Philadelphia’s millennial health and mental health challenges.