More Needed to Reach Black, Indigenous and People of Color with Mental Health Services, Panel Says

The importance of cultural responsiveness in serving the mental health and wellness needs of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) youth, and current mental health trends in a post COVID-19, reopening world were key themes of the Community Alliance Connection Forum in San Diego on July 28 hosted by Blue Shield Promise Health Plan and its Community Resiliency Workgroup. 

The online panel discussion featured community mental-health leaders and a youth participant, who zeroed in on key mental health issues impacting BIPOC and other youth.  Attending the event were school educators, mental and behavioral clinicians, social workers, therapists, community housing and transportation managers, youth program advocates, and parents.

“The good news is that mental health is now being talked about openly - and embraced as important - especially among BIPOC youth.  It is not hidden or stigmatized, it is not shameful, and the root causes of behavioral issues are being addressed. Traditionally, this has not been the case,” said panel moderator Rosa Ana Lozada, L.C.S.W and chief executive officer of Harmonium Inc., a health prevention and intervention organization that provides services to more than 30,000 children, youth, and their families through public/private partnerships. 

The impact on youth mental health of a family’s generational, cultural, and ethnic influence, combined with societal racism, systemic barriers, and social justice issues prompted a lively panel discussion.

“So often, family experiences of BIPOC youth have shaped how they grow up.  They may be taught to behave and to think in ways that don’t always allow them to expand, to express their true natures and their creativity, or their connection to others,” said panelist Michele Ly, director at Union of Pan-Asian Communities and owner of Collaborative Collaborations, which provides therapy services, clinical supervision training and consultations. 

Overcoming language and cultural barriers

April Laster, CEO and founder of Open-Heart Leaders, San Diego’s only African American, female-led mental health organization, raised the importance of having therapists of color in communities like San Diego.  “The youth we serve need help navigating their lives.  They want to know they are heard and understood by a therapist who can relate to their cultural, ethnic and family dynamics,” she said. “This is an issue for our community.”  

Language and its impact on BIPOC youth was also identified as a mental-health concern. “People who have English as a second language may not feel they are fully recognized as part of their community, and may be viewed as ‘others’,” said Ayuja Dixit, a marriage and family therapist associate with License to Freedom, a nonprofit organization that promotes nonviolence through community education, self-sufficiency and advocacy for refugee and immigrant survivors of domestic and relationship abuse. “Additionally, Western style therapy practices don’t typically weave in culturally sensitive approaches. Young people might be labeled in ways that don’t help them understand that they can get better and improve their lives, and they may mentally carry those labels into adulthood.” 

Miyu Oda-Deshotel, a college student representing youth on the panel, offered practical advice for her peers.  “Talk with your friends about the importance of practicing self-care and getting help if you have mental health issues.  Don’t judge yourself, be comfortable with who you are and do things that make you feel good.  Stop doing things that can negatively affect your mental health.”

The Blue Shield Promise Community Resiliency Workgroup is comprised of 30 community-based organizations dedicated to improving and supporting the health and well-being of San Diego youth and their families.