Provider Highlight: How We Can Help Destigmatize Mental Health in the BIPOC Community

Friday, September 22 2023

July is BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Mental Health Awareness Month. In the spirit of “The Courage of Connection,” I wanted to amplify the voice of a connection I recently made with a SonderMind clinician who empowers her patients in the BIPOC community with courage: the courage to be themselves, the courage to talk about their struggles, and the courage to seek help when they need it. I’m very pleased to introduce you to Antoinette Winters, a Sondermind therapist. In this conversation, I’ve asked Antoinette to share how she works with patients, how we can reduce the stigma around mental health in BIPOC communities, and how we can improve mental health access for all.  

1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your practice? 

My pleasure. I am a BIPOC, LGBTQIA+ licensed therapist practicing in Texas. I have been practicing for over 10 years, primarily working with BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ clients. I am trained in cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as dialectical behavioral therapy, and provide education on how our thoughts connect with our feelings and result in helpful or unhelpful behaviors. Overall, I help individuals create a healthier way to live a fulfilling life.

2. What are some common mental health challenges that are prevalent among BIPOC communities that you've noticed in your work? 

I’ve noticed as a BIPOC service provider that there are myriad issues and challenges faced by the BIPOC community, including the stigma attached to seeking mental health services. BIPOC communities are less likely to have access to mental health services, are less likely to seek out treatment, are more likely to receive poor and low quality of care, and are more likely to end services early. There are barriers that contribute to this including cultural stigma around mental health, systemic racism and discrimination, language barriers, lack of insurance, mistrust of mental health providers, and also difficulties finding providers who look like them. 

3.  How do you think we can address the stigma surrounding mental health within BIPOC communities and encourage individuals to seek help? 

We can address these stigmas by first identifying and admitting that they exist and being able to have these hard conversations with the people we serve. I will often get people of other races seeking me out as a Black clinician, such as Hispanic American or even Asian American individuals, because they feel like I will get and understand as a BIPOC individual. Oftentimes I will hear them say, “I’m glad I found you,” and this statement says a lot. To me, it means they are happy they found a BIPOC provider who they feel will get their cultural differences.

4. You mentioned that the BIPOC community has a hard time accessing care. What can we do to improve access to mental health services for BIPOC individuals?

To improve access to mental health services for BIPOC individuals, we can:

  1. Increase culturally competent care: Train mental health professionals to understand and address the unique experiences and needs of BIPOC individuals.
  2. Reduce stigma: Promote awareness and education about mental health within BIPOC communities to reduce stigma and encourage seeking help.
  3. Increase representation: Increase the diversity of mental health professionals to better reflect the communities they serve and provide a sense of cultural understanding.
  4. Improve affordability and insurance coverage: Advocate for affordable mental health services and work towards improving insurance coverage for BIPOC individuals.
  5. Provide telehealth and online resources: Expand telehealth options and develop online resources to increase accessibility and reach for BIPOC individuals, particularly in underserved areas.
  6. Address systemic barriers: Tackle systemic issues, such as racism, discrimination, and socioeconomic disparities, that can impact mental health outcomes and access to care.

5. Are there any specific resources or initiatives that you would recommend to BIPOC individuals who are interested in learning more about mental health and seeking support?

Certainly! Here are a few resources that can support BIPOC individuals in learning about mental health and seeking support:

  1. Therapy for Black Girls: Online directory of therapists specifically serving Black women and girls.
  2. National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network: Directory of practitioners who specialize in serving LGBTQ+ people of color.
  3. The Steve Fund: Mental health resources and support for young people of color.
  4. Asian Mental Health Collective: Culturally competent mental health resources and support for Asian communities.
  5. National Latino Behavioral Health Association: Resources and advocacy for mental health services in Latino communities.
  6. The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation: Eradicating the stigma around mental health in the African American community and providing therapy resources.
  7. The Indian American Psychiatric Association: Mental health information and resources tailored to the Indian American community.

Remember, seeking support from a licensed mental health professional is always beneficial. These resources can help connect you to culturally competent therapists who understand and value your unique experiences.

6. What role can allies and non-BIPOC individuals play in supporting the mental health of BIPOC communities?

It would be beneficial for allies to advocate for government funding and policies that prioritize and support the mental health needs of BIPOC communities, as well as educate themselves on the unique challenges that BIPOC individuals face. Also, collaborating with organizations that are already taking some initiatives to increase and bridge the gaps of disparities for the BIPOC population. 

7. How do you care for yourself with a busy practice? Have you ever found support by other BIPOC providers to be helpful? 

I take care of myself using mindfulness practices. In between my sessions, I immerse myself in nature. Many of us have learned the benefits of grounding and connecting to nature as good for our mental health as well as our bodies. I have also received therapy services from a BIPOC provider. She understood some of my cultural and family dynamics in a way I wasn’t able to get from other providers. It felt really good to be seen, heard, and understood.  

I’m grateful to Antoinette for sharing a glimpse of her practice and how she serves her patients, especially those in the BIPOC community. Far beyond this month, we must continue to advocate for equitable access to mental health resources, challenge systemic barriers, and strive for a society where every individual, regardless of their background, can receive the support they deserve. Together, we can build a more connected, compassionate, and inclusive world for all.

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