BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and a time to shed a light on the factors preventing minorities from speaking up about their mental health and alerting others when there is a problem.  

According to Stacy Kuwahara, Director for Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery, therapy can be viewed as “more culturally norm for sort of middle-class white people, and we want to make sure that our behavioral health services are available to everybody.” 

Mental illness and mental health issues do not discriminate, yet minorities seek help at a significantly lower rate than their white counterparts. Several factors are to blame, including a fear that the people closest to them will judge.  

Stephanie Prince, a licensed clinical social worker, said “in minority communities, what goes on in our home stays in our home, so I think the stigma really comes from just not knowing what mental health services look like and what does that mean.” 

The impact of the stigma surrounding mental health in minority communities has a lasting effect on overall health and wellness. Former Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery patient, Samantha Castellon said, for several years she’s “lacked emotional support” from family along her mental health journey.

While education and open conversations can help decrease stigma, some people in minority communities also see the lack of therapists that reflect their own cultures and identities as a deterrent. 

Kuwahara said that she ensures staff at Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery “look like the community they are serving, because needing mental health is a universal need.”

Unfortunately, those aren’t the only the barriers to care minority communities face. Fear can also play a role. There have been several instances where situations have gone bad when people experiencing mental health crises call police for help. Though, here in Kern County, law enforcement is getting ahead of the problem, pairing officers with licensed mental health professionals while on patrol.  

Measure N funds were recently approved by the city council to allow for a clinician to join the Bakersfield Police Departments communications dispatch team, providing an additional level of support to people experiencing a crisis.  

Eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health is fundamental for closing the treatment gap for minority communities. Mental health is the key to our overall well-being, and with increased awareness and support for those dealing with battles, we can help be a part of the solution.