By Lea Collins
As we commemorate and celebrate Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) month in July (more on the month, inspired by the late NAMI advocate Bebe Moore Campbell), we would like to bring awareness to the unique struggles these underrepresented groups face in balancing mental health with challenges, illness and disease. The BIPOC populations experience a wide spectrum of continuous oppression, discrimination, and inequality that is deeply rooted in America’s society. It has been good to see mental health given the attention it deserves since the start of the pandemic. Many more people now recognize that mental health is a part of total health and people are more open to discussions. We still have a long way to go in order to eliminate stigma and normalize mental health. For this reason, we continue to promote the importance of mental health, and the need for community resources and assistance to support underrepresented individuals in the BIPOC communities.
My personal experiences with mental health challenges involved anxiety and depression when I was an adolescent. There was difficulty in trying to understand the silent emotional turmoil. I was bullied in school and found it hard to maintain friendships. Although I do have a close circle of good friends today, growing up was really hard; I did not possess the knowledge to recognize some symptoms and triggers and I did not have anyone to talk to about it, not even my family. Thankfully, today the discussions with my family about mental health are more open and comfortable.
As a black woman growing up in the black community, our culture of handling mental health challenges and issues was to not talk about it (and definitely not to talk about anything with anyone outside the family). When I reached my late teens and young adult years, I started to self-medicate with drugs and, before I knew it, I developed an addiction. Drug use allowed me to avoid or ignore the distortedness of what I was thinking or feeling, but eventually it began to exacerbate the symptoms. After 20 years of living through the hardships of addiction and experiencing some homelessness, I successfully completed and graduated from an outpatient treatment program. This is where I first learned about mental health and its connection to addiction.
For many, family support can be very helpful in mental health treatment and the recovery process. Family members can assist in many ways. For example, love, empathy, encouragement, and trying to understand their loved ones through educating themselves or attending support groups. It was important to me to know that my family was supporting me on my recovery journey. Some individuals do not have family or the support they need to get through rough times. This very factor has inspired me to get involved with mental health and to support others that need a helping hand, a smiling face, or an empathetic ear to listen. I wanted to give back to my community by providing mental health support to individuals who need it because I understand how important it is to have support during a mental health crisis and on the road to recovery.
If you are looking for someone to talk to about mental health and all that it encompasses, there is help and hope. Our CalHOPE warm line is here to help normalize the negative feelings resulting from the pandemic, and direct individuals to other available CalHOPE resources where they will have the opportunity to connect with counselors who have lived experience and can help navigate through the challenges. CalHOPE crisis counselors are here to connect with you! You can also find help from our support groups and classes.