Mental health is an incredibly multifaceted and complex topic. There have been strides made towards increasing our knowledge surrounding mental health as well as awareness regarding mental illnesses. We have access to a wide variety of sources that allow us to both learn about mental health and access the services we may need. Despite this progress, there continues to be a stigma surrounding mental health and illnesses.  Given that today is World Suicide Prevention Day, I have decided to focus on mental health stigmas in the context of racial and ethnic minority communities. The idea of seeking mental health services is often seen as a taboo or stigmatized. Overall, mental health is very often a topic that is neglected, unacknowledged, and stigmatized, especially in minority communities. In many cases, mental illnesses are seen as a personal flaw or a weakness. It is often mislabeled as something the individual may be exaggerating or lying about to garner sympathy or attention for themselves.

DeFreitas, Crone, DeLeon, Ajayi (2018) claims that mental health stigmatization takes place when individuals hold negative perceptions or beliefs about those who have mental health illnesses. DeFreitas et al. (2018) further elaborates that these prejudices directly relate to discrimination. This discrimination can manifest in areas such as employment, healthcare, and housing.

When individuals express that they are struggling with mental health their feelings can often be dismissed or met with judgement.  As mentioned in Eylem et al. (2020) this stigma is why many individuals do not seek help for mental health. Eylem et al. (2020) also mentions that this particular stigma is worse for ethnic and racial or minorities in comparison to ethnic or racial majorities. Ending this mental health stigma means that people may be more likely to reach out and seek mental health services. As a result, this exacerbates the feelings of isolation that many people facing mental illnesses experience.

According to Gary (2005), individuals who have a mental illness and are also part of a racial or ethnic minority group suffer a double prejudice. Gary (2005) specifies that this double prejudice comes from the stigma towards mental illnesses, as well as the person’s membership in a minority group

In addition to this double stigma, racial and ethnic minorities less likely to seek out mental health services. When they do decide to seek out these services, they face plenty of barriers. This is because racial and ethnic monitories experience mental health service disparities in terms of access to services. This disparity also exists in the quality of mental health services received. McGuire & Miranda (2008) recommends that having diversity in the healthcare field as well, providing more mental health education, and improving the access and quality of mental health services could aid in getting rid of these existing disparities.

In addition to these suggestions, I also believe that mental health allies and individuals who are members of a racial or minority community also have a personal obligation to start breaking down this stigma in our communities. One of the first steps is looking within and acknowledging any stigmas or attitudes that we may hold ourselves. By educating and holding ourselves accountable this can begin the work towards ending these stigmas. However, it is simply insufficient to not personally engage in discriminatory behaviours to those with mental illnesses. The negative perceptions and stigmas that exist in the community must also be addressed. One of these ways is by challenging certain cultural notions or ideas that members of our communities may hold. There is sometimes a lack of knowledge and awareness surrounding mental illnesses, so comments being made could possibly be coming from a place of ignorance. In this case, education is a crucial part of addressing this issue. Engaging in these difficult conversations with family, friends, and community members is a step in the right direction towards ending the mental health stigma in minority communities.

 Ending this mental health stigma is a collective effort. Eliminating it means that people may be more likely to reach out and seek mental health services. This is a step in reducing the feelings of isolation that many people facing mental illnesses experience.

Mental health hotlines/ help phones in Canada: