Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Anyone, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or sexuality, can develop a mental health condition or struggle with their emotional well-being. That being said, there are glaring disparities between how people of color and white people experience mental health conditions, as well as access care. Research has found that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) individuals often suffer from poor mental health outcomes, due to numerous factors including discrimination, stigma, and lack of access to culturally competent care. For instance, Black adults in the U.S. are 20% more likely than white adults to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress, such as sadness and hopelessness. Yet, only one in three Black adults who need mental health treatment actually receive it. In another example, the National Latino and Asian American Study (NLAAS) found that Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than white people. The barriers to care are multifactorial, but we all have an opportunity to confront racism and disparities in our own way.
At One Medical, we recognize that emotional well-being is just as important as physical health, and all of us doing our part in confronting racism is a way that we can improve the mental and physical health of people of color. That’s why our team members Sherese Ezelle, LMHC, LCPC, Mental Health Therapist and Co-chair of One Medical’s Seattle Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice team, Bianca Torres, Phlebotomist and member of One Medical’s Black Excellence Employee Resource Group, and Annie Chan, FNP, NYC BIPOC community Shift Facilitator, and Chair of the Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American + Employee Resource Group, wanted to highlight some of the unique challenges people of color face and how you can support them in confronting racism:
1. Educate yourself
Explaining a history of systematic racism and oppression can be exhausting and emotionally burdensome for BIPOC individuals. Don’t rely on them to educate you. “Instead use the variety of online resources, books, podcasts and documentaries available to learn more about different cultures and how they are impacted by stigmas and mental health challenges,” says One Medical Phlebotomist and member of the Black Excellence Employee Resource Group, Bianca Torres. Educate yourself on the history of marginalized communities, while researching contemporary barriers and disparities. Know that learning is a life-long process, so commit to regularly reevaluating and challenging your own viewpoints, as well.
Here are a few resources to learn more:
2. Listen with intention and respect
In order to be an effective ally, it’s important to understand the experiences of people of color. Take the time to listen to and hear the stories and concerns of those around you. If someone opens up to you about their experiences as a person of color, try to approach the conversation as an opportunity to grow, rather than as a personal attack or criticism. When engaging with someone from a different culture, show respect for that persons’ beliefs, feelings, culture, and values, even if you disagree with them. “It’s also okay, if you don’t understand something,” says One Medical Mental Health Therapist, Sherese Ezelle, LMHC. “Instead of making assumptions, respectfully ask clarifying questions that show you genuinely care and want to understand their unique experiences”.
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
Speaking up when you know something is wrong is never easy, but doing so can help evoke real change. If you witness an act of hate or hear a racist comment, push yourself to step outside your comfort zone and say something if the situation is safe. These conversations may be challenging, uncomfortable, and leave you feeling vulnerable, but the more you show up and speak out in your social circles, the more you’ll help move the needle and uplift members of the BIPOC community. “Success can oftentimes be measured by the amount of uncomfortable conversations you are having,” says One Medical provider, Annie Chan, FNP-C. “I am typically a conflict avoidant person, but some conversations are too important not to be had. I encourage you to approach these situations with gentle compassion and curiosity, but firmness in your conviction to lift up marginalized folk”.
4. Show up in an authentic way
Your job as an ally isn’t over once you’ve shared a supportive social media post or two. While doing so can certainly spread awareness about key issues, it’s important to use your position of privilege (due to race, gender, role, finance, network, etc.) to support real-world change. Continually re-evaluate what you’re doing to support BIPOC individuals and the reasons behind your actions. Be mindful not to practice “performative allyship’”— the act of showing support for a cause in order to boost your one’s own image and social capital.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.