In July, we observe National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to shed light on the obstacles that racial and ethnic communities still face when it comes to accessing mental health support and resources. Stop Stigma Sacramento believes that every single person in our diverse communities deserves access to mental and physical health services and treatment.
Back in 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to recognize Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July. Not only was she the co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles, but she left an incredible mark on the world through her literary works, which addressed racism and mental health. This month, we honor all that she did to create a safe space for these communities to come together and share their common experiences without having to worry about the stigma associated with mental health.
Aileen-LingLing Elikorasmythe-Jones shares her experience on talking about mental health and wellness in her cultures and how the experience has affected her journey. She is a member of the Stop Stigma Sacramento Speakers Bureau and was born into a multi-heritage family. She identifies as American Creole and Japanese/Filipino on her mother’s side and African Egyptian on her father’s side. Her paternal side of her family, unfortunately, did not accept her mother’s blended heritage. This is her story:
- What does Minority Mental Health Month mean to you?
Minority Mental Health Month to me is bigger than the 4th of July because it is every single day, and not everybody has recovery. Not everybody gets through it, some people end up losing their lives, and I’m one of the lucky ones. To me, it means life.
- What do you feel is the general perception of mental health/mental illness in your culture or ethnic group?
It’s still very stigmatized, it was a big no no. You don’t tell outsiders anything because if you do, they are going to bump it to all these other people; they are going to say you’re crazy, put you in the hospital, put you on drugs; it was not allowed to be discussed.
Elders discussed it with each other, but as kids you had to keep your mouth shut and not ask questions. You’ll just get through it. When I opened my mouth, I got blackballed by a lot of my family members.
- Describe a time when you first discussed mental illness within your cultural community (parents/family, faith leader, etc). How did it go, and what did you learn?
I have 15 brothers and no sisters. And with those fifteen brothers, it hurt a lot of them. Four of them are military veterans from special forces, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, and the army. It hurt them for their only sister to come out and talk about [mental health], they looked so stunned and hurt.
We talked about our family and about how our parents and elders were when we were growing up – how the women had to be so strong and not talk about anything. They will be taking care of the children, running the house, taking care of the babies. They were taking care of the elderly, so if somebody was sick at home, you take care of them, and take care of the kids.
You would never see them cry or get emotional. They would go off to the kitchen and tell us kids to stay out and then you can hear them talking – not screaming or yelling or anything. They just talk and discuss things.
- What would you want your cultural community to learn about mental health and wellness?
I would want them to learn that you have to open your mouth. You have to get rid of some of that fear. I know it’s hard to get rid of fear 100% right away and it takes time, but you have to get rid of the fear, doubt, worry and thinking.
It took a long time for me and I’m very, very fortunate to have so many people who have helped me. Now, I don’t feel like I’m scared of everybody. One thing I learned from my mental health challenges is that my grandmother was right- you don’t put everybody in the same box, ever. You don’t know their culture. You don’t know what they’ve been through. Be respectful.
- Some languages have no direct translation for terms like “depression,” “mental illness,” or “anxiety.” Are there any different words or phrases your cultural community uses to talk about mental health?
I was always told by the women in my family that you never judge a book by its cover, and I always looked at them like, I’m not a book! But then my grandmother would tell me that means that when you see something, its not always what it seems. Be patient, be kind, be generous.
What you are seeing might not be what you’re really seeing with your eyes, you need to see with your ears, you need to see with your nose, and you need to see how you speak it and what comes out of your mouth. I used to just laugh and smile at all the elderly women, but now I know exactly what they mean about being careful what you hear, and what you see and what you speak because that can cause more harm than good.
Aileen says her biggest takeaway from her journey is to never give up on yourself no matter how hard the road and to never give up on the life ahead of you.