Designated by Congress in 2008, July is known nationally as BIPOC Mental Health Month. The resolution was intended to raise mental health awareness among marginalized communities and to destigmatize seeking treatment. Fourteen years after the issuance of the official observance, we need to discuss past progress and how we can build upon it going forward.
As we’ve written about before, many are aware of racial disparities in our medical system. However, the disparities within mental healthcare systems specifically are not as widely known. Studies consistently show white folks are given a higher standard of medical care than the BIPOC community, in both physical and mental healthcare.
Bebe Moore Campbell, the activist for whom the observance is officially named, understood the barriers to accessing mental health services in BIPOC communities and the need for normalizing mental healthcare. As a mental health advocate, journalist, author, and teacher, Campbell used her many talents to raise awareness about the mental health progress needing to be made. She understood the issue is two-fold: destigmatizing seeking help and improving the care BIPOC do receive.
Already this year, the Biden administration took tangible action to improve mental health services for the entire country. Although the initiative is long overdue, the new 988 mental health hotline will serve as an alternative to 911. To ensure full functionality, state governments must fund and foster the program as it did with 911.
The new mental health hotline is a much-needed intervention that should increase access for everyone, but stopping there wouldn’t be equitable. We need to focus attention and resources on BIPOC communities, and Congress is a great avenue to do so. This year, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to do just that – use our resources to improve BIPOC mental health outcomes.
H.R. 1331, the Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act, would address systemic barriers to access mental health services. States that receive federal grant money for mental health services would be required to report information regarding BIPOC treatment outcomes, recruitment and hiring of BIPOC providers, and cultural training of non-BIPOC providers.
This bill is part of a larger package that would address several BIPOC health inequities, and Congress should absolutely move on all these initiatives. What better way to celebrate BIPOC Mental Health Month than to take strong action? It’s time Congress set forth new care and accountability standards for those receiving federal grants, in turn improving our mental health access and quality of care.