July is BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month

By Dr. Garima Singh, Fellowship Class of 2022
Chief Medical Officer for Burrell Behavioral Health and its parent company, Brightli.

“We value and celebrate diversity and inclusion among those we serve, within our workforce and in our communities. At Burrell Behavioral Health, we have initiated multiple community programs, care pathways, behavioral crisis program, school-based services, and Be Well Initiatives to help provide access to competent mental health care in a safe, informed, and respectful environment.”

July is BIPOC Mental Health Month, which was previously designated as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. It was founded in 2006 by Bebe Moore Campbell and Linda Wharton-Boyd to increase awareness and meet the mental health needs of historically oppressed racial and ethnic minority groups.

Black and indigenous people, and other people of color (BIPOC), suffer from unique mental health challenges and are more likely not to seek or receive treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness; these illnesses are observed to last longer, be more severe, and result in significant long-term disability for people of color (POC). Per a 2021 report, during the COVID pandemic there has been an exponential increase in mental illness, and the impact has been severe for POC. Some 40.3% of Hispanic people experienced depression, and 36.9% had an increase in or initiation of substance use, compared to 25.3% depression and 14.3% substance use reported in Whites.

One of the silver linings of the pandemic for behavioral health was the acceptance and expansion of tele-medicine. Tele-medicine has significantly improved access to mental health care; we have been able to serve more patients than before, reduce no-shows and eliminate barriers including transportation and privacy concerns. I am personally very passionate about easy access to mental health care, and telemedicine has tremendous potential to improve the lives of patients suffering from depression, anxiety, high-functioning Autism and other mental disorders. I have so many patient stories to share from COVID, where I saw the positive impact of virtual platforms. As a child psychiatrist and Autism specialist, I have seen kids struggling with increased anxiety and stress in waiting rooms and clinic spaces. However, during COVID through the means of tele-medicine, I was able to evaluate them in their home environment, saw their relaxed selves that I had never observed before, and (virtually) met hamsters, pythons, mice, birds and other pets. I had a few individuals who shared their challenges with gender identity and sexual orientation, and mentioned their shame and struggle with discussing these topics during an in-person appointment. My team and I have seen that such conversations and breakthroughs are not limited to the LGBTQ population, but to patients of many ethnicities and identities. The power of telemedicine has the ability to break down so many walls… some we may not know existed. As a human and a professional, nothing breaks my heart more than the fact that an individual would need the security of a screen or phone to discuss their basic needs and concerns. We definitely still have lot of work to do.

During the pandemic Burrell also started a daily virtual (now three times weekly) self-care and connection opportunity for our staff and community. The Be Well Community has become a pillar of our system-wide philosophy of trauma-informed care, connection and inclusion.

I am hopeful for a future where everyone can seek and receive mental health care. Everyone, regardless of their color, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or sexual identity deserves quality mental health services. Through integration, partnership and working together we can remove all barriers and help our communities receive the care they need to heal, grow and thrive.