The stigma behind mental health

In the United States one in four people are suffering from mental illness and many of these people go undiagnosed. Once adding the additional factor of race, the disparities become even clearer. The stigma and prejudice behind acknowledging and seeking help for mental illness is an immense issue that directly affects people of color (POC) students throughout their life.

     Racism within itself is a systemic issue, meaning racial discrimination is ingrained in the institutions created to allegedly support everyone, regardless of race. An institution that is only made to help a certain group of people is not an effective one. 

     Specifically in medical environments, cultural barriers and invalidation from medical professionals have a direct correlation  to the broad issue of racial discrimination. 

     POC generally have a higher mortality rate, higher misdiagnosis rate, and are often pushed aside in medical environments. This impacts POC seeking help specifically for their mental illness, causing them to get labeled as, “crazy” or being told “they’re overreacting.”

     Many POC have grown up in cultures where showing emotions is a sign of weakness, this leads to shame within the child. As a result, fears generate around one’s identity. The fear of what others might think and the fear of being invalidated. 

     Monte Vista’s new Wellness Center coordinator, Lacy Whiting, speaks with students from different racial and cultural backgrounds daily, which provides perspective on how students might have been negatively affected by the stigmatization of mental health.

     “We all go through hard times, sometimes you just need someone there to talk about it and get that support. It shouldn’t be this big, scary, weird thing. I think it’s really important for us to take care of ourselves,” said Whiting. 

     Taking care of our mental health is just as important as getting daily exercise or brushing your teeth every morning. It is not something that deserves to be neglected, bottling these feelings in will only cause more problems later on.

     Before facing these issues head-on Whiting said, “It’s important to understand this [stigma] and also give students a voice because this is a real issue, can’t just sweep it under the rug…Even accepting it [their mental health] for themselves is the first step, just acknowledging something for yourself can be difficult if you feel like this is ‘wrong’ or ‘shameful’”.

     Cultural factors play a big role in the stigmatization of mental health. Through generations of minimizing the importance of mental health and labeling the expression of emotions as weak, communication impediments foster within the child. This indirectly affects them in the long run.

     Treasurer of the Bring Change to Mind club [breaking mental health stigma club] at Monte Vista, Junior Jasleen Kooner said, “ I think older generations have had to deal with more severe mental health stigma than newer generations, but even as the generations have gone on there still is a majority of people that think talking about mental health is taboo and should be kept a secret. Views from previous generations have also been passed onto future generations creating a projected view of mental health from the past, which can come off as extremely stigmatized.”

     The generational build up makes it difficult for parents to approach this issue, consequently, there will never be a one-and-done answer when it comes to mental health. Creating a community where mental health is not stigmatized will only benefit students.

     It’s important to remember that everyone has a voice that deserves to be heard. Mental health is very real and once we recognize that, there are so many steps we can take to help ourselves and those around us.