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Help end stigma and prioritize mental health in Black, Indigenous and Communities of Color

How we can Make It OK at the intersection of mental health and one’s experience as a person of color

Ways culture impacts mental health and stigma

A history of trauma in health care and systems has resulted in mistrust for many in the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community and has affected how mental health is talked about (or not talked about) and how care and support is received.

Culture, race, lived experiences, beliefs, identity, values and language all shape how we see and experience mental health and illnesses. This is why it’s so important we approach differences with humility and in a caring and respectful way so all people of color receive the support and care they deserve.

Mental health and stigma in the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color community

  • People of color were 49% more reluctant to seek care for their mental health, according to the 2021 Make It OK IMPACT survey1
  • According to How Race Matters: Learnings from Mental Health America’s screenings in 20202
    • The proportion of people with moderate to severe symptoms of depression was highest among those identifying with more than one race (90%).2 
    • Nearly every racial and ethnic group was experiencing consistently higher rates of suicidal ideation than the 2019 average.2
    • People reporting frequent thoughts of suicide or self-harm was highest among Native Americans or American Indians (46%).2 
    • For all racial and ethnic groups, loneliness or isolation was most likely to be selected as one of the top things contributing to their mental health concerns. 2

“The effect of racism and racial trauma on mental health is real. It’s essential for culture and identity to be a part of the mental health care conversation.”

— Daniel H. Gillison Jr., NAMI CEO

Cultural barriers

Beliefs and representations of mental health

In many communities, mental health conditions may be seen as a personal weakness or something you just don’t talk about. This can lead to feelings of shame or worry about how others might see you if they are spoken about. Representations are often guided by formal (family and friends) and informal (educators and health care providers) sources. For many, it can be very challenging to discuss mental health because of the mistrust and stigma surrounding it, and in some communities, there are simply no words or language to talk about it.

Lack of access to care and culturally aware mental health professionals who understand the culture, beliefs, values and language.

When a person is experiencing challenges with their mental health, having access to and receiving quality care as soon as possible is important. Equally important is that the care provided is by professionals who understand a person’s identity and the role that cultural differences play.

Community connection & support

The power of community

Community is the anchor connecting people and reducing isolation. It’s also what brings forth social changes, understanding, compassion, hope and strength. Throughout history many communities of color have created support systems to help with the healing and recovery of mental health through cultural and community practices centered around connecting with others, cultural traditions, language, stories, food, art, dance and more.

How you can help end mental health stigma in communities of color:

Spread awareness

Learn and share about mental health and the added challenges people of color face by:

    • Increasing understanding of mental health in communities of color. Learn more
    • Launching a Make It OK campaign in your community. Learn more
    • Celebrating Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Mental Health Month. Learn more

Listen, and approach talking about mental health with cultural humility

A humble approach, focused on seeking to learn and understand the person’s unique cultural beliefs, values, languages and practices, creates a more inclusive and safe space for people of color to get the support and care they need and deserve. To learn more:

Watch Penumbra Theater Community Conversation. Let’s Talk: Mental Wellness & Race


Explore resources to learn more


Explore lived experiences