While addressing mental health care is an important year-round goal, July has been designated as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to recognize the challenges unique to people of color, which have experienced socioeconomic disparities, discrimination and trauma, and may not have equal access to mental health care. They may even experience a stigma when talking about mental illness within their communities, but they don’t have to struggle alone.
Look for these common mental illness symptoms
Sometimes we might brush off concerning behaviors from friends and family members or even dismiss them as part of life. However, the following behaviors can be a sign of an underlying issue that should be addressed as soon as possible.
- social isolation
- Change or breakdown in relationships
- Sudden changes in communication or willingness to talk to others
- Not enjoying favorite hobbies, activities or foods
- Poor performance at school or work
- Changes in sleep, either too much or too little
These signs and symptoms can appear in both children and adults.
Another thing to look for is feelings, thoughts or threats of self-harm, even if the person doesn’t follow through on them. Remember, someone may not be very open about how they are feeling, especially if they are afraid of being judged. Just talking about it can be beneficial, however.
“It’s a myth that the more you talk about suicide, the more likely the person will end up thinking about it,” says Cori Green, MD, MS, Vice Chair of Behavioral Health in the Department of Pediatrics and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine, and associate attending pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian Phyllis and David Komansky Children’s Hospital at Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Opening the door to have a conversation about suicide can be protective.”
If you fear someone will act out self-harm, don’t wait to act. Call the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text “TALK” to 741741.
Finding the right kind of support
It can be difficult to go from knowing you need mental health resources to take action. In diverse communities, this can be made more difficult if you don’t already know someone who can connect you to a therapist or who is being treated by a mental health professional. Beginning the search online or through apps and community organizations may be a great first step for those who don’t know the names of any providers.
Stephanie Cherestal, Ph.D., is the Assistant Attending Psychologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Director of the Adult and Adolescent DBT Programs in the NYP-WBHC, Outpatient Department at Weill Cornell Medicine. Assistant Professor of Psychology in Clinical Psychiatry and Co-Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Department of Psychiatry. She advises to do research into providers you would want to work with. Looking through providers’ bios to see their backgrounds and the client populations they’ve worked with can give a sense of their personality and values as a health care provider.
That said, it’s also really important when you’re finally sitting down with a mental health care provider to ask those questions deliberately.
“You would be surprised by how often patients are nervous to do that or are afraid to ask their therapists about their qualifications or what experiences they’ve had working with different groups,” says Dr. Cherestal. “But I really encourage clients to really think about doing that. Don’t be worried about hurting the provider’s feelings or putting them on the spot. Your mental health care is a priority here.”
Ask the therapist about their experiences working with someone who looks like you or has similar experiences and identity. If you meet with a therapist and don’t like how they answer these questions, it’s OK to look around for someone who is a better fit. You don’t have to commit to the first professional you meet.
It’s often easier to suggest someone you love to get the help they need, but what if you’re wondering about your own mental health? If there are things on your mind or you feel you need to talk to someone, this may be an indication that therapy could be useful. Making that first call could be the first step toward feeling better and reducing your risk for more serious mental health conditions.
Making mental health a priority
In addition to seeking a therapist or other mental health professional, there are things you can do to put your well-being first. Dr. Cherestal recommends staying physically active; she loves to run to stay focused. Finding one or two activities that get you moving around can be a big benefit to your overall mindset.
“In addition to that, I stay socially connected. I am incredibly close to my loved ones, my family, and my friends,” she says. “And especially when I’m having a hard time, what’s really important in terms of maintaining my mental health is remaining connected to the people that I care about.”
Schedule an appointment with a mental health professional at https://weillcornell.org/doctors.