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The mental health disparities faced by people of color

World Mental Health Day: The mental health disparities faced by people of color

Racism and stigma make it harder for people of color to get services, and it’s gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic.

Published October 10, 2020

Richelle Concepcion still remembers the name she was called after trying to stop a White kid who was picking on younger peers on the swim team in high school.

“Shut the f**k up, you Oriental b*tch!” that kid yelled at her so many years ago.

Though Concepcion, a Filipina American, wasn’t the only person teased by that kid at her school in San Francisco, she was the only one called a racial slur.

“After that event, I spent time ruminating on the experience and went over scenarios in my head about what I could have said back, whether I was indeed what he called me, etc.,” said Concepcion, now a psychologist at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, via email.

The racially motivated event and long-term subjection to stereotypes were two of many experiences “that inspired my work, as I tend to be very cognizant of the experiences of my patients who identify as people of color,” she added.

Mental health issues affect everyone, but people of color — Black, Latinx, Asian and Native American people — have higher rates of some mental health disorders and face greater disparities in getting help than White people. Those issues are primarily due to lack of access to services resulting from institutional discrimination, interpersonal racism and stigma — which can all harm the psyche of people of color in places where they are not the majority.

Such disparities have existed for decades, but “what we’re seeing is that some of the stresses that are associated with being a member of a marginalized group have been exacerbated during the pandemic,” said Brian Smedley, the American Psychological Association’s chief of psychology in the public interest and acting chief diversity officer.

During the pandemic, many people have experienced mental health stressors such as unemployment, sick and lost loved ones, disrupted social lives, insecurity about the future and a lack of internal peace — all of which threaten people’s socioeconomic status and stress levels. And minorities already disproportionately experience those misfortunes.

“There’s a high likelihood that (the pandemic) is also affecting mental health and well-being for these populations as well,” added Smedley, who leads the APA’s efforts to apply the science and practice of psychology to the problems of human welfare and social justice.

The mother of Maximino Avila — or Wachinhin Ska (“White Plume”) in Lakota, the eponymous language of the Native American tribe — “died an addict on Market Street” in San Diego when White Plume, now 33, was a child.

“My first introduction into intergenerational trauma was realizing that’s what (my drug addiction stemmed from) after I got sober,” White Plume, who is an activist in his community, said. “I didn’t realize I had been experiencing it my whole life coming from

Pantone’s Color of Menstruation? Period Red

Pantone, the color registry company, has introduced a new shade — Period red — that it hopes will get people talking about a part of life that often goes unmentioned.

By focusing on menstruation, Pantone said, it wants to overturn a taboo and draw attention to a regular life phase with a color that is “energizing” and “dynamic.”

Period red “emboldens people who menstruate to feel proud of who they are,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute. She added that the goal was “to urge everyone, regardless of gender, to feel comfortable to talk spontaneously and openly about this pure and natural bodily function.”

The announcement is partly a marketing stunt: Pantone has teamed up with the Swedish feminine products brand Intimina, and the brand’s Seen+Heard campaign, to help make periods just a regular part of everyday life.

But there’s no arguing that attitudes toward menstruation are outdated: The average woman has her period for 2,535 days of her life, yet it continues to be a barrier to women’s equality. In some parts of the world, women still face discrimination, miss school to manage their periods and lack clean, safe products and lavatory facilities.

And periods don’t stop for pandemics. As the coronavirus crisis ravaged global supply chains and disrupted work and social lives, women and girls around the world were struggling to find basic essentials like pads and tampons.

In recent years, businesses and governments have taken steps to combat the stigma. Zomato, an Indian food-delivery firm with 4,000 workers in 24 countries, introduced a paid period leave policy in August for employees dealing with cramps and stomach pains brought on by menstruation. In 2018, Scotland became the first country to provide free sanitary products to students at schools, colleges and universities, so girls and women will no longer have to miss studies because they cannot afford sanitary products. In early 2020, the British government followed suit.

According to Plan International UK, a girls’ rights charity, one in 10 girls in Britain cannot afford sanitary wear, and nearly half of girls ages 14 to 21 are embarrassed by their periods.

Menstrual equity is a political movement as well as a marketing effort. There are longstanding calls to abolish what is known as the “tampon tax,” or sales tax on sanitary products, in places across the United States.

Pantone is one of the most influential organizations in color forecasting and in savvy marketing, experts say, with its annual color of the year. In 2019, the pick was a “classic blue” to mirror the world’s collective anxiety and stress.

On Twitter, Period red and the statement behind it were met with praise by some and derided as virtue-signaling by others. And some raised concerns about the color match. “I’m all for ending period taboos,” one user said, “but I don’t think painting your walls Manchester United red is really the answer.”

Zareen Ahmed, founder of the Gift Wellness Foundation, a charity in Britain that provides sanitary