July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and this year’s focus is particularly relevant. Minority populations have had significant stressors this year. The coronavirus pandemic, the national focus on race and systemic racism, and the economic fallout from an unstable economy have created a storm of emotions and concerns.
In 2017, 10.5% (3.5 million) of young adults age 18 to 25 had serious thoughts of suicide including 8.3% of non-Hispanic blacks and 9.2% of Hispanics.
In 2017, 7.5% (2.5 million) of young adults age 18 to 25 had a serious mental illness including 7.6% of non-Hispanic Asians, 5.7% of Hispanics and 4.6% of non-Hispanic blacks.
Feelings of anxiety and other signs of stress may become more pronounced during a global pandemic.
People in some racial and ethnic minority groups may respond more strongly to the stress of a pandemic or crisis.
Because of the vast gaps in health equity and access, many minority populations have trouble finding high-quality mental health care providers and/or a means of getting to a provider to receive care. The pandemic has created a unique situation that can actually be a benefit for some people who have trouble finding good care or getting to an office. Because so many healthcare appointments are now virtual, that could remove one barrier to receiving care, but is wholly dependent on access to reliable technology to be able to connect virtually.
Increased access also depends on changing much deeper levels of the healthcare system. Many mental health providers are overwhelmed with the increased demand for their services during the pandemic. And many providers choose to skirt the often tedious and time consuming insurance process and have opted not to accept insurance and are private pay only. Those two issues can actually create even steeper burdens for those already marginalized by the healthcare system.
MentalHealth.gov offers resources to help families, individuals, educators, and faith and community leaders to begin conversations around mental health among minority populations. Talking about mental health in a normalized and compassionate way can help reduce some of the stigma around mental health issues. People who feel like they can ask for help are often able to then take the steps to get the help they need. If they feel like they are not alone and they are not the only ones who might be struggling, then they will find that getting help is less of a burden. If they feel supported by their community, they feel less need to hide or even deny what they are feeling and experiencing.
Although July calls attention to minority mental health, the issue is one that needs constant attention, but particularly during this time of tremendous and chronic upheaval.
Suicide is one of the most pressing health issues in the country today, but it’s also one many people are reluctant to discuss openly. With September designated as National Suicide Prevention Month, this is a great opportunity to help shed the stigma around suicide.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) one in five adults will experience a form of mental illness this year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the 47,173 suicides in 2017 makes suicide the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. But the problem is even more pervasive than even those alarming numbers. NIMH reported that in 2017, 10.6 million adults aged 18 or older reported having serious thoughts about trying to kill themselves.
Those numbers are staggering and reveal a deep level of anguish among the people in this country. Many of those people do not get any kind of professional help and many don’t even tell another person they have had thoughts of harming themselves. That’s why it’s so important for others to recognize, and act on, signs of trouble.
How You Can Help
As a nurse, you have a level of interaction with so many different people every day, so noticing subtle signs is important. It’s essential to know the warning signs of someone in crisis.
Depending on your specialty and your typical workday, your nursing career might not bring people in obvious mental health crisis into your day. That doesn’t mean your patients aren’t struggling. Friends and family might also be hiding their serious despair, so knowing what to look for and how to listen and interpret is helpful.
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
Talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawing or feeling isolated
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Displaying extreme mood swings
If you notice something is worrisome, for instance a friend’s social media posts have started to mention that “the world would be better off without me” or a struggling colleague’s behavior with drugs or alcohol is increasingly reckless, it’s okay to ask about it.
It’s Okay to Say Something
Saying something in a nonjudgmental way is best and helping that person find a professional to talk to is going to be helpful. Call a crisis line for immediate help or bring them to the ER, especially if you think they are in imminent danger of hurting themselves. It’s also probably going to be awkward and may not be met with affection, but generally those behaviors are the way someone might ask for help without really asking for help.
In your workplace, see if you’re able to post crisis hotline numbers, so others can have immediate access to the information—either for themselves, their patients, or someone they are concerned about.
Mental illness is a major health condition affecting millions of American families. With no regard to education, age, class, family, ethnicity, or gender, mental illness can impact anyone’s life and often has widespread effects.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and helps spread the word about the higher risk of mental illness in minorities own lives and the real barriers minorities face to receiving timely, high-quality, and accessible care.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), rates of mental illness impact minority communities in greater numbers. Culturally, many minority communities have a greater stigma associated with mental illness, so people have a hard time speaking up or admitting they need help. If they do decide to get help, the barriers for finding high-quality, accessible, and affordable care can be insurmountable.
As a result, nurses might routinely see patients who have symptoms of mental illness but won’t address it. Most of these conditions are treatable with the right help, so it’s important to let patients know about available resources or even that what they are feeling is a true biological illness, not something that they can just get over or take care of on their own.
The American Psychiatric Association and the Mayo Clinic offer these indicators that might signal something more serious than a passing phase. Experiencing one or two of these symptoms isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but if symptoms are interfering with someone’s ability to perform their normal functions, take care of themselves, work capably, or hold meaningful relationships, then they need to get help.
What are some signs and symptoms to look for?
Feeling sad, down, or hopeless
Excessive anger or an inability to cope with stress
Anxiety, feelings of guilt
Withdrawing from social activities, friends, family
An inability to keep up with grades or normal work quality
Sleeping too much or an inability to sleep
Eating too much or too little
Extreme mood changes – highs and lows that are beyond average
Increased or troublesome use of drugs and alcohol
Feelings of being disconnected or experiencing delusions
Thoughts of suicide
Many people experience sadness or mood changes throughout their lives. A bad day at work can make you grouchy, and family problems can make you sad and anxious. But lingering problems with these feelings and those that impact daily life need attention.
Be on the lookout for any of these symptoms in your patients and listen to the ways they might express them. If they are in danger of harming themselves or someone else, immediate help is necessary, so call 911 or get your emergency team to respond immediately.
Above all, reassure your patients that, like any other medical illness, mental illness is something that is treatable and nothing they are at fault for. A little compassion can make a huge impact.
Mental health issues affect millions of families in the United States, and families struggling with the issue often have a hard time finding the right care to help tehir loved ones.
This month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) focuses the spotlight on Minority Mental Health Awareness Month by talking about the discrepancies minorities dealing with mental health issues face and the complex web those who care about them must navigate to get help.
Minority Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the struggle of minorities living with a highly treatable, but often stigmatized illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health to achieve a balanced, healthy life, and the Office of Minority Health notes that mental illness impacts minorities at a greater rate than whites.
Minorities who live with mental illness often face barriers to care that, throughout the nation, can often prevent them from getting tratment of any kind. Depending on the community in which they live, access to high-quality mental health care can be hard to find. With the best teaching hospitals and clinics often located in big cities and psychiatrists and mental health counselors scattered throughout regions, gaining access to help is tough. According to NAMI, language barriers, cultural bias, and resources that don’t fill the need for care also get in the way of people getting essential treatment.
Even in the best situations—if someone has access to care and the insurance to pay for it—some minorities find a rigid cultural stigma against mental health issues. The stigma can be so complex and overwhelming, that it’s enough to keep someone from getting the help they need. If someone has the determination to find proper care, continuing with it can be a lonely struggle, so good support and follow through is especially necessary.
As a nurse, you can help in a couple of ways. With your direct, hands-on caregiving of patients, you can help assess if the patient might have mental health issues underlying their other health concerns. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Erratic or harmful behavior is an obvious warning sign, but more subtle signs can easily be brushed aside: a patient who comes in routinely for aches and pains but nothing is physically wrong, a new mom who mentions her struggle to care for her newborn, the young man who says he can’t sleep for days and then sleeps for three days in a row, or an elderly patient who feels a sense of hopelessness and loneliness after a health change.
All these smaller signs are red flags that something isn’t right and that your patient may be struggling with some form of mental illness. Because there are so many different types of mental illness and so much variation in severity, a front-line nurse can bring in the mental health team for an assessment. They can continue to advocate for the patients to understand the issues they are facing, whether it is lack of care, inability to access care, a cultural belief in mental illness as a personal flaw or weakness, or family that is not supportive or understanding. Communicate what a kind of positive impact mental health treatment can have on their lives and well being.
Showing compassion for patients and a cultural understanding of why they may be reluctant to be diagnosed with a mental illness can have a lasting, positive impact on your patients as well. Let them know they are not alone and that your team can help them find help. They may still refuse, but an open attitude might bring them back.
Understanding the challenges of mental health care with minority populations is important. These complex issues can prevent someone with very treatable forms of things like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder from growing into a worse problem. Earlier treatment makes a big difference, helps people live better lives, and can prevent a mild form of illness from developing into a more complex and harder-to-treat condition.
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