The Office of Minority Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, designates each July as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.  By calling attention to the specifics of mental health in minority communities, the awareness campaign helps spread information about the importance of good mental health practices, shares resources for finding help, and removes some of the stigma around seeking treatment for conditions including depression or anxiety.

As the COVID pandemic has retreated, many folks are left with lingering feelings of trauma, particularly in minority communities that were impacted more than others. Many people lost loved ones during the past few years and others are coping with the lingering health impacts of having had COVID or caring for those who did. The pandemic exposed glaring health disparities in which racial and ethnic minority patients had less access to high-quality health care, more severe illness, and higher numbers of severe COVID.

Beyond healthcare and within a society that has structural racism, the pandemic caused far-reaching impacts from a disease that upended employment, income, insurance coverage, childcare, transportation, and family structure. The long-term impacts of the trauma people experienced, and are still experiencing, is something that will influence minority mental health for years to come.

During Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, nurses can help spread information about the importance of good mental health by discussing it with patients. They can offer resources, talk about how mental health changes physical health, and normalize discussions around emotions and trauma.

Because nurses educate patients, they can call attention to symptoms that patients might associate with mental health struggles including

  • new or marked sadness or crying
  • changes in eating (too little or too much)
  • changes in sleep patterns (difficulty falling asleep or getting out of bed)
  • lack of interest in hobbies, relationships, work
  • thoughts of suicide
See also
A Day in the Life of a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse

They can also verbalize symptoms that aren’t always recognized as symptoms of something like depression or anxiety including

  • anger and rage
  • increased substance use and abuse
  • new or increased compulsive actions (checking locks, food patterns)
  • unsafe activity (unsafe sex, driving recklessly, overspending)
  • feeling the worst is going to happen

Talking about minority mental health with nurses encourages patients to recognize their feelings, be attentive to changes, and understand that they aren’t alone. These efforts might not always seem significant, but nurses can keep in mind that their conversation about mental health might be the only time a patient discusses their concerns. Some minority communities have such a barrier to openly discussing mental health that it is a subject that is just never brought up.

When nurses identify symptoms, highlight resources, make connections for therapy or medication providers, and show support, patients feel seen and heard. Emphasizing that mental health is a physical condition and that effective treatment is available is a beacon of hope for people who are feeling like they aren’t sure what to do. Nurses can make a meaningful difference to patients with a caring conversation about minority mental health and some resources to get started.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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