Mental health is an area that so many individuals struggle in and due to compounding factors like lack of access to care, high levels of stress, structural racism, and more, individuals that belong to minority or historically underserved groups are often more greatly impacted than their counterparts. For this reason, the Work2BeWell (W2BW) team recently hosted a live event, featuring Chris and Martha Thomas, from The Defensive Line (TDL), and Lauren Harper, PhD, from Providence Oregon, to discuss minority mental health and youth suicide prevention.
Bringing together experts to discuss the mental health-related challenged faced by BIPOC communities
W2BW National Student Advisory Council (NSAC) members Ash, co-lead of the NSAC Access Team, and Kianna, leader of the Activation Team, as well as recently graduated NSAC member Dominic facilitated a lively and informative discussion covering topics including structural racism, intergenerational trauma, implicit bias, intersectionality, and more.
When the topic of microaggressions came up, everyone came to agreement that there is nothing ‘micro’ about ‘microaggressions.’ Microaggressions are every day, subtle, and intentional or unintentional interactions or behaviors that communicate a bias.
“The ‘micro’ in microaggressions might make them not seem serious, but that’s not the case,” says Dominic. “They can have serious consequences to the people that they are targeted towards.”
Chris shared that his daughter Ella faced microaggressions often. “[She] was biracial and an athletic, beautiful, and studious young lady. There were many times she was told, ‘You look good for a Black girl.’ These little comments have a toll on your psyche, your ego, and on your health.”
Work2BeWell partners to expand the reach of their message
The Defensive Line was co-founded by Chris and Martha Thomas and their son, Solomon, defensive tackle for the New York Jets, in honor of their daughter and sister, Ella, who died by suicide at age 24.
“Growing up in an African American family, mental health, suicide prevention, and how to deal with ‘whole’ health were not big topics. We want to make sure we are sharing that with others, so they don’t go through the same type of pain we’ve gone through."
Chris Thomas, The Defensive Line
Providence and Work2BeWell have worked with TDL on curriculums specifically geared toward supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) youth mental health, including a suicide prevention workshop geared towards educators, coaches, and youth leaders to give them the tools to identify, intervene, and refer students in crisis to help. The focus on the adults that young people encounter at school is an intentional one. “By reaching teachers and coaches, we’re reaching the people who may spend the most consistent time with a young person,” says Martha. “It’s really important to us that the people who seem them consistently are aware of everything they need to do in a crisis situation.”
Providence is promoting the importance of mental health
Dr. Lauren Harper shared that she made the decision to go into psychology specifically to focus on Black mental health. As a licensed psychologist, she now supports caregiver wellness initiatives at Providence in Oregon and Southwest Washington as a program manager and helps caregivers in that region access a whole host of behavioral health resources.
The Work2BeWell program is one she is highly supportive of and she regularly promotes their resources to Providence caregivers, especially the BIPOC mental health resources. For youth and adults from underserved and underrepresented communities, it can be particularly challenging to find culturally congruent mental health providers and resources. Dr. Harper works to help Providence caregivers get the support they need and ensure they leave these conversations with an action plan in place and resources they can use.
Eliminating the stigma of talking about mental health and suicide prevention
It can be difficult to open about mental health, but Work2BeWell and its partners are working to reduce the stigma and normalize these kinds of conversations.
“Simply keep talking,” says Martha. “Talking in a positive light and not waiting until there is a crisis.” This could be something as simple as being willing to share with a friend or loved one how you are feeling or this could be finding a professional to talk to. Being willing to talk and have these conversations is key to becoming more comfortable talking about mental health and suicide prevention.
Dr. Harper shared her thoughts on how organizations can play a role in creating spaces and opportunities within their communities to encourage individuals to have open, honest conversations and to increase awareness of the resources that are available. Getting out into their community more and finding more opportunities to share information about mental health and mental wellness would help to normalize these topics and make it more likely people will come into access care when they need it.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Seeking help for something as personal as mental health can seem daunting or scary, but there are many resources available online, in the community, in the schools, through health care organizations, and other places.
“Reach out for help because no one should have to struggle alone.”
Ash, NSAC Member and co-lead of the NSAC Access Team
“If you’re struggling with mental health or you know someone struggling with mental health, please go ahead and access the resources that are available for you online. They’re for you and to support you,” says Dominic.
Mental health and wellness resources
If you are in crisis, please call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 988 or visit their website to live chat with someone immediately.
For access to other valuable resources, please visit our website.
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