July marks National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness about mental health conditions currently prevailing among diverse groups. The aim is not just to shed light on these issues’ gravity but also to break down the stigma walls surrounding mental health in these communities.
In recognition of this important month, I want to share and discuss findings from a report released at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2022 (1) that intricately connect race, lived experiences, mental health, and cognitive well-being. The research suggested a correlation between experiences of racism, discrimination, and increased cognitive decline – a mental health issue that is particularly relevant to diverse communities.
The intersection of racism, discrimination, and mental health is not a new area of research, yet it remains an inadequately explored territory n though it affects millions of diverse individuals. The recent study presented at AAIC suggests that individuals who have experienced racial discrimination are more likely to show signs of cognitive decline earlier than those who have not. Cognitive impairment can lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s and dementia, which also disproportionately affect diverse populations.
This risk of cognitive decline amongst diverse communities is compounded by pre-existing risk factors such as social isolation and loneliness, high prevalence of diabetes (2), and genetic defects in the ABACA7 gene seen in African American/Black individuals (3).
These findings underscore the need for our healthcare systems and social structures to adequately address and support the mental health of our diverse communities. Racial discrimination is not only a social and moral issue, but a public health issue that directly impacts the mental and cognitive well-being of diverse communities.
So, what can we do to combat this?
Education is our first line of defense. It is imperative to understand that racism is a systemic issue that permeates every layer of our society, and our mental health is no exception. Recognizing this intersectionality is the first step towards fostering an environment that supports the mental well-being of everyone, regardless of their racial or ethnic background.
Raising awareness about the unique mental health challenges that minority communities face is another crucial step. National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month serves as an opportunity to elevate the conversation about the unique struggles faced by these communities. It’s a time to educate ourselves and others about the disparities in mental health care, how systemic racism contributes to these disparities, and what we can do to help.
Lastly, we need to advocate for inclusive mental health support. This can take the form of pushing for policies that ensure access to culturally and linguistically competent mental health services; supporting organizations that are working towards the same; and consciously including minority mental health in our conversations about overall health and wellbeing. Below are some proposed federal legislations you can support: