Irene W. Bean, DNP, FNP-BC, PMHNP-BC, FAANP
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month and, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the renewed focus on systemic inequalities, this topic is in urgent need of attention. Mental health issues affect every demographic, but it is especially prevalent for us working and living in minority communities. Systemic problems such as food insecurity, inadequate transportation, unemployment or underemployment, policing practices and lack of access to quality health care make our areas susceptible to many mental health issues, like stress, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans between the ages of 15 and 24 in 2019. In the past year since the tragic killing of George Floyd, the African American community has seen a spike in reported cases of anxiety or depression, jumping from 36% to 41%.
There is one systemic issue that we must address above all others: people in minority communities are less likely to seek out treatment for their mental health issues.
I began my career in 2001 as a family nurse practitioner at an indigent clinic in Nashville, Tennessee. I instantly fell in love with my work. I focused on being a resource for my community around me, which struggled with many of the same issues that other minority communities experience. I recall one patient who came in for her three-month follow-up for her diabetes. She had two young children accompanying her this time, who turned out to be her grandchildren. Their mother had died in a motor vehicle accident recently, and the burden of raising the children fell to my patient, who was feeling overwhelmed at the age of 75 and had developed severe anxiety. I was able to help connect her to resources to assist her with the newfound responsibilities and get her help for her brewing mental crisis.
Through this experience and other patients in the community, I encountered what led me to want to blend traditional family health care with mental health services so that I could be a resource for those who are struggling.
Talk to almost any nurse practitioner working in a minority community, and they will have similar stories. They would echo my message to people who are living through this: you are not alone. I know at times the problems can seem insurmountable, and it might look like you will never get out of the mess, but you can, and we’re there to help you.
This Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, let’s come together as a community and break the stigma that talking about personal problems and seeking help is a negative thing. If you or a loved one is struggling with something, speak to your nurse practitioner or another health provider so they can connect you to the resources that are available to help you through this challenging period. Remember that you are not alone, and with help, you can get through this.