Minority Mental Health Month

On this first day of July, fireworks, barbecues, and summer vacation are likely top of mind. And for the first time in more than a year, many of us are gathering with our loved ones and taking long-awaited vacations. There’s a lot to be excited about, but for many, particularly our BIPOC service members, the invisible wounds of war endure.   

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about how culture, race, and background impact mental health. And with an increasingly racially and ethnically diverse military population, it’s more important than ever that we understand how to effectively reach and serve these minority veterans. This starts by acknowledging that background and identity can make access to care much more difficult. In fact, an IVMF and Military Times COVID-19 poll revealed that during the pandemic, minority veterans report a higher percentage of resource needs – including mental health resources. 

“Many of my African American clients have a difficult time engaging in mental health care due to lived experiences and those they’ve heard other community members have experienced,” says Dr. Shea Lott, Ph.D., Lead Clinician at the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at Easterseals. “This underutilization has significantly impacted the community at large and specifically those veterans and active duty service members.” 

Earlier this year, one of our clients fell victim to a racial incident following the January 6th insurrection. “In this situation, the client struggled when their feelings were not validated and with how the community responded to them as they attempted to re-integrate as a minority service member,” notes Dr. Lott. This person presented with symptoms suggestive of PTSD that are the result of direct exposure to a life-threatening event. It impacts their interpersonal relationships, sleeping, self-esteem, mood, and ability to navigate work due to a lack of support. 

List of Barriers to Mental Health TreatmentUnfortunately, this type of case is common for our team of clinicians. It’s well documented that non-white and in particular, African-American veterans, experience discrimination and disparities in many aspects of their military and veteran experience. For example, numerous studies have identified disparities in mental health diagnoses, access, and outcomes for minority veterans and service members, including: 

“To address this concern, we have to focus on the stigma that associates mental illness with personal failure and it must be discussed openly and honestly in the African American community—in every community—so this harmful and outdated idea can be debunked and abandoned once and for all” adds Dr. Lott. “For instance, the idea that African American’s have a greater pain threshold than their White counterparts is one such example." 

It's hard to uproot the stigma therapy has in minority communities. It’s hard to evolve in a society that perpetuates that you must be strong when dealing with trauma. And it’s hard to let go of the notion that prioritizing mental health is a sign of weakness. But the epidemic of mental health in minority communities is one we must address. 

At the Cohen Clinic, our vision is to “ensure that every veteran and family member is able to obtain access to high-quality, effective care that enables them to lead fulfilling and productive lives.” In order to provide quality care for minority veteran populations we must continue to adapt our treatment to acknowledge the impact racial, cultural, and ethnic differences have on the effectiveness of certain interventions. We take pride in our diverse staff, as research supports improved outcomes for mental health as paring clients with providers who have a similar cultural background; and our clinicians undergo trainings in terms of diversity issues as they present for treatment, cultural awareness, and equity issues. 

We’re happy to report that the aforementioned client is making progress. Our team is helping them develop healthy coping strategies, most notably prolonged exposure - the primary treatment modality supported by research. Exposure in this sense means facing thoughts, feelings, or situations that are usually avoided because they trigger distress. Minority veterans struggling with psychological and emotional difficulties related to their service need treatment that is culturally sensitive, socially educated, and tuned in to the barriers that prevented the suffering from coming forward earlier, and our team at the Cohen Clinic is committed to breaking down all barriers to care and proactively addressing these disparities. 



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