True Mental Health Awareness Means Exploring Systemic Barriers
A licensed social worker and mental health educator shares how social injustices affect mental health
Mental health is essential to everyone, but certain groups of people face disproportionate challenges that negatively impact their psychological health. Minaa B., therapist, licensed social worker, mental health professional, and author of Owning Our Struggles, shares insight into the world of mental health inequities and how they manifest in our everyday society.
As a person of color who has personally felt the debilitating effects of trauma, Minaa brings an authentic voice to the mental health conversation. In her Teach For America Equity Talks event, Why Mental Health Is a Social Justice Issue, Minaa offers mental health awareness beyond common life challenges.
These Equity Talks are designed to bring together thought leaders across many intersectional issues. In her Talk, Minaa probes deeply into mental health struggles of marginalized groups, while also giving mental health tips and crucial field knowledge.
Interested in more topics like this?
We host critical conversation events all year long. Attend as few or as many as you’d like.
Discovering Meaning in Life’s Journey
Can you tell us how you got into mental health work? What did your path look like?
It definitely wasn’t a linear path for me. As a child, I was struggling with my mental health. I was always interested in knowing what was wrong with me.
I remember my friend encouraged me to speak to a guidance counselor in my school when I was in high school and that is what I did. It really felt like a safe, nurturing environment. And I knew this was something I wanted to do.
For undergrad, I ended up studying business management. That was influenced by my parents. While I was in business school, I took all of my electives in psychology. And I remember having a sociologist professor who was a Black woman and also a social worker. I admired her dearly. She is actually the reason why I pursued my master’s in social work.
“When I say people need a seat at the table, I don’t mean scooting chairs over. I mean literally demolishing the whole thing and recognizing how classism, racism, and all of these isms are impacting people’s wellbeing.”
Mental Stressors Go Beyond Individuals–They Are Deeply Rooted
Mental health is moving in a direction that serves a certain group of people, while many others are still waiting to have a seat at the table. Can you tell us more about what this means?
Mental health is still very much inaccessible in 2023. When we talk about mental health and healing, we’re very focused on the person and their emotions, their mood, but we fail to really focus on the environment, systems, institutions.
Mental health starts in utero. When a parent has healthy outcomes and they do not have to experience stressors in the world such as working to have a livable wage, accessing the health care system, worrying about immigration status, or socioeconomic disadvantages that helps to develop a healthy child.
When I say people need a seat at the table, I don’t mean scooting chairs over. I mean literally demolishing the whole thing and recognizing how classism, racism, and all of these isms are impacting people’s wellbeing.
Mental Health Struggles Are Not Created Equal
Social inequities can harm the mental health of people of color, leading to depression, anxiety, and feelings of disconnection. How have you seen this?
I want to bring us back to 2020 after the murder of George Floyd as well as Breonna Taylor, as well as the stabbings that were happening in the Asian American community.
When we talk about mental health, we have to remember that mental health impacts groups differently. It impacts people of color in a way where we’re dealing with racialized violence causing symptoms that aren’t generally named in the DSM.
I feel like it is my responsibility, and our responsibility, as people of color to be mindful about being intentional with our joy and what makes us happy in a world that, unfortunately, keeps us suppressed or tries to continuously keep us oppressed
View the full interview
Speaking Up And Showing Up for Others
How can those of us with privilege show up for those in disenfranchised communities? How can we support mental health and racial healing for others?
First I encourage people to think about what privilege is, and that is the power and the resources that you hold that can support the people who are in and out of your scope of reach.
Privilege is something that I don't have to think about. But, if I want this to be accessible to people, I need to be mindful of the communities who might need things that I don't need and speak up for them.
It requires you to educate yourself … I always say, “It’s going to be hard to be an ally if you don’t know what you’re fighting against.” It’s really important for you to recognize that you have a responsibility to learn. There are resources available to all of us to learn in different ways that are free. Some are paid but there are so many free resources available to us. I think that is the best way we can use our power and privilege to help others around us
“I always say, “It’s going to be hard to be an ally if you don’t know what you’re fighting against.” It’s really important for you to recognize that you have a responsibility to learn.”
Disrupt Social Injustice, Bring in Peace
How can we become allies in our everyday lives?
Call in. There is a difference between calling out and calling in. Calling out is when we expose people in the moment and shame them or judge them versus calling in is letting someone know harm was caused, but accountability is a lifeline. [Tell the other person] “The reason I want to share this with you is because I want to give you a lifeline to enter back into this community.”
Practical Tips You Can Use Right Away
Whether you are helping yourself or someone else in circumstances with little to no resources, follow Minaa’s step-by-step guidance to getting quality care:
- If you are insured, call your insurance provider and ask them to connect you with in-network mental health providers so you only have to pay a copay.
- Use samhsa.org, a government resource that allows you to look up mental health clinics in your zip code. Some of these clinics are free.
- Take care of your physical wellness. Trauma is stored in the body. As much as possible, care for your body so it can care for you.
Being an ally or upstander can be unnerving in the moment, but the impact of showing up for others is profound. It can be the driving force for bigger change. Educating people on social injustices can have a ripple effect. That’s what we need in society, which in turn, can help shrink the mental health challenges gap, one person at a time.