BUFFALO, N.Y. — When it comes to mental health, it's hard to ignore stigmas and inequities that separate communities of color from others, especially as it relates to treatment and access to care.
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. The goal of this month is to bring awareness to the "unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States."
Back in 2019, The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported suicide was the second leading cause of death for African Americans ages 15 to 24.
Gizelle Stokes is the founder of The Mindful Institute LLC and a long-time mental health practitioner here in Western New York and says it's important that more communal empathy and emphasis is given to historical and present-day lived experiences in minority communities to better understand their impact on mental health.
"When things happen within our community, it's not necessarily looked at as a public health crisis," Stokes says. "When you look at people of color, and their mental health, specifically, I think that you have to think differently. Our mental health is often connected to past traumas, it's connected to racism, it's connected to a variety of socio-economic status issues."
Barriers to care and representation amongst providers are also big issues.
"We are so limited in our resources," Stokes continues. "I am the only person, a woman of color, and many of the mindful activities that happen in the region."
And while change is not easy, Stokes says, it's important to remember that when we are trying to make a difference the best place to start is with an open heart and an open mind.