The 5 Mental Health Tips I Always Give My BIPOC ClientsThis way for a crash course in ~doing the work.~
Sure, it might feel like there was just a mental health awareness month literally two months ago, but unlike that one, July is specifically dedicated to all the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities out there who don't always feel seen or heard within the context of mental health care. From intergenerational trauma to stigma within our own communities and a lack of accessible and actually good health care, there’s a lot on our minds in the BIPOC community. Not to mention, we just have different cultural practices and behaviors that aren’t always meaningfully addressed in mainstream media. And all that makes it harder to really have our mental health needs met.
This month, we recognize Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the unique mental health hurdles faced by BIPOC communities in the United States. JFYI: Campbell was an author who challenged how we think about mental health, stigma, and how race and cultural differences can play a role in our well-being, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
While many within BIPOC communities have long fought to address systemic racism, we also need to make sure we're regularly taking care of our mental health by healing from the psychological effects of discrimination, challenging internalized racism, and eliminating mental health stigma. When we do that kind of work, we create a more inclusive and supportive society for ourselves and our people.
We can't ignore the fact that centuries of racial oppression have affected how we are treated and how we see ourselves as BIPOC individuals. But, in honor of this month, let’s commit to reclaiming our worth and recognizing our incredible resilience. By "doing the work," we have the power to rewrite the narrative that's been forced upon us, love ourselves for who we truly are, and create spaces that help us ask for support when we need it. As a mental health pro, here are five useful tips that I give my BIPOC therapy clients to help them on their healing journey.
1. Acknowledge that it’s OK to not be OK.
If you often feel pressure to appear strong and unaffected by the challenges you face, yeah, I’ve been there too, my friends. Dealing with systemic racism, discrimination, and the weight of intergenerational trauma on top of the stressors of daily life takes a toll on our mental health and can leave us feeling emotionally drained. And it really is OK if you’re feeling the negative effects of all that, and it’s brave as hell to admit your struggles, embrace vulnerability, and seek assistance.
We experience hurt and pain and anxiety and every emotion on the feelings wheel just like anybody else, and there is nothing wrong with getting stressed, wanting to cry, feeling weak or tired, and needing help.
By normalizing conversations around mental health within our communities, we can break down the stigma surrounding these issues and create safe spaces for others to open up and find support too. So, please remember that it's chill if you feel extremely unchill, and reaching out for help is an act of self-care, empowerment, and community healing.
2. Put any internalized racism on notice.
As BIPOC individuals, we’re constantly flooded with all sorts of hateful messages about ourselves. It often starts with our families, who might say out-of-pocket things like, "Stay out the sun because you don't want to get darker," or call our natural hair “nappy.”
Then, as we grow up, our friends, community, and society as a whole play more of a role. Anyone else ever heard that "you're one of the good ones" or "not like the others” BS? Or maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of backhanded compliments like, “You are so articulate.” Kids may have even teased you for the food you ate at the lunch table and said it was “weird” or “smells funny.” (It’s called flavor!)
These experiences can be stressful for us, and we may start to internalize racism as a result. That can manifest as self-hatred, low self-esteem, and devaluing the things that connect us to our people in order to assimilate into whatever the dominant culture says is acceptable.
Unlearning these harmful beliefs about ourselves can be a challenge in a world that often assumes the worst about us, but we all deserve to feel self-love and appreciate our uniqueness.
To start unpacking any internalized racism, take some time to think about your beliefs, values, and experiences. Then, reflect on how your life experiences have shaped how you see yourself and your worth.
Once you've thought about your self-image and beliefs, try to educate yourself on your culture's history, achievements, and contributions to society. Our education system usually teaches a very watered-down version of BIPOC history, but learning about our countless contributions can build a sense of pride within you.
Then, surround yourself with people that will challenge your negative biases and empower you to love and celebrate yourself and your community. Finally, if you have access to a therapist, a professional can create a safe space for you to see yourself and people like you in a more positive way.
3. Lean on your community.
Have you ever walked in a room, looked around, and realized nobody looks like you? I've had this experience so many times, and it never fails to make me feel really isolated and alone. It can also trigger feelings of imposter syndrome where you question whether you’re really good enough to be in those spaces. Some people may even feel unsafe, and that’s extremely fair.
That's why building and being part of a community is so important, especially for BIPOC folks who often find themselves being “the only one.” For example, when I was in graduate school, there was an incident where someone questioned the qualifications of some of the BIPOC students and whether or not they actually belonged in the program. Obviously, it sucked. But how do you really handle microaggressions or downright racism like that? Fortunately, at the time, I had a strong community of other BIPOC students who supported each other when these things happened. Without them, dealing with these kinds of situations would probably have significantly affected my mental health and sense of belonging.
It’s important to have a space where you can share your experiences, be yourself without any filters or code-switching, and find validation in the challenges that you may face. If you're feeling isolated, try to find community through your friends and family, local cultural and social organizations (like a fraternity or sorority), online support groups, your faith community, or tribal groups. (There are also organizations and websites that offer information on accessing culturally responsive mental health services.) By connecting with others who share your background and similar experiences, you can feel seen, heard, and affirmed in your identity, which leads to greater mental well-being in the long run.
4. Carve out some you time.
Your well-being matters, and you deserve to make time to take care of yourself, but many BIPOC folks face the pressure to always hustle, work hard, and disprove negative stereotypes to be seen as “good enough.” It's like everyone expects us to constantly push ourselves and be productive without considering our own need for balance and rest. That’s where self-care comes in, since it’s an act of self-preservation and resistance against the narrative that our lives are not worthy of love and care and peace.
Self-care can look like setting boundaries, prioritizing your needs, or doing whatever brings you joy and fulfillment. It can be as simple as spending time in nature, connecting with loved ones, or doing something creative like singing, dancing, or painting. If you ever feel like you can’t do it on your own, there’s nothing wrong with making self-care a team effort by reaching out to your friends or a licensed therapist to help you out.
The key is to find activities and support that make you feel your best, and then to turn to them on a regular basis. If you're not sure where to start, check out these self-care strategies and ways to level-up your self-care routine.
5. Think on this: What are you loving about yourself today?
Many of us can easily point out all the things we don't like about ourselves. But when it comes to identifying what we like, it can be a real challenge. In fact, some never really learned how to fully love, celebrate, and embrace themselves for who they truly are (thanks in part to the limited representation of our cultures in the media).
To help clients get more comfortable with this concept, I often end my therapy sessions by asking, "What are you loving about yourself today?" Take a moment and answer it for yourself right now. If it was easy to respond, it might mean that you're already a self-love pro! But if you struggled, make an effort to affirm and celebrate yourself by creating a list of affirmations that you can repeat as needed. You can also try a values clarification worksheet like this one to understand your core values or practice meditation to feel more present in your body. These are great strategies to help you reflect and develop a stronger sense of self.
Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.