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July Recognizes BIPOC Mental Health Awareness

Racial trauma is an additional challenge faced by the BIPOC community.

July is BIPOC mental health month. BIPOC stands for black, indigenous, and people of color, communities that can face unique challenges when it comes to mental health. I spoke to two mental health professionals about the issue.

Kayla Spikes is the diversity and inclusion coordinator for Centerstone. She said one of the biggest challenges is that racial trauma is ongoing.

"With racial trauma, I think that a piece that sort of sets it apart is this ability to be re traumatized on a really consistent basis, because you have things like microaggressions, which are so subtle and often unintentional, but they often happen like daily as well. So it's kind of like there's this ability to be re traumatized on a really consistent basis," Spikes said.

Racial trauma is the result of encounters with racial bias, discrimination and violence that is faced by people of color. While some forms of racism are overt, others are more subtle. Britne Shamble, a provider with Centerstone, said sometimes people don’t even realize what they’re experiencing at first.

"I think that those types of things, sometimes we can't recognize those, if you haven't been educated, or there's a certain sense of ignorance, it may just be happening, you just don't even know that that's happening," Shamble said. "And then you start questioning yourself, saying, am I good enough?"

Shamble and Spikes both point to microaggressions as an example of the kind of consistent bias people face.

"So hearing, like, if you see someone and you ask them, where are you from? And then they tell you, you know, let's say they say, Texas, and you're like, no, where are you really from?" she said. "Some other examples could be you know, you're really pretty for a dark skinned girl. Or can I touch your hair? And that's happened to me several times, like people just coming up and touching my hair. Maybe even something like, you know, if we see someone who we, who we think is Hispanic or you know, Latin, we say, Oh, so you don't speak Spanish. You know, we're just assuming that they that they that they have the ability to speak Spanish just because they look a certain way."

Shamble said another issue comes from people feeling they can’t be their authentic selves, especially at work.

"I noticed, in my experience in the black community, where you may be considered to white or acting white, but it's the exact opposite if you go to corporate America. You're to black or to ethnic and those types of things," she said. "So I had to learn that early on, eat prior to my career, just in the workforce, applying for places and I've been through, like, interview courses, by this point, where they're like, this is the way you dress, these are the things you do. And so having a guide to me at that time seemed helpful. But I found that it didn't look like who my everyday self was."

Even when organizations commit to hiring a diverse workforce, other policies can make a workplace feel unwlecoming. Spikes gave the example of dress codes that may be unintentionally biased.

"When it comes to neat and clean hair, you know, that's just an example that I give. That's subjective. What does that look like and who's to say what that is? Especially when it comes to like, I think about the black community in particular. You know, women wear braids, they wear extensions, wigs even, men have dreadlocks. And some people might look at that and think that that's dirty."

For people of color, constantly having to navigate spaces where they feel they have to ‘code switch’ or hide parts of themselves is something that can be exhausting, Shamble said.

"So, it's really hard to find yourself doing that, especially to like, the extreme degree where, if your voice change or appearance changes, it's really hard to keep up and then you're coming home, and it's hard to like turn that off at some point is going to be hard to turn it off," she said. "And your family's like questioning Who the hell are you? You know, you're answering the phone and you sound a certain way. It's like, why are you talking like that? So you're faced with these, you know, it's a, you're faced with this issue at home now and also at work of trying to maintain something that isn't really you?"

Shamble said that burden is something she’s felt herself, as a black provider, as well as an issue she sees in her clients. Another challenge, she said, is that those in the BIPOC community may be reluctant to seek help, in part because they don’t feel they can trust providers.

"I can't say, unfortunately, that I've seen a lot of folks from the BIPOC community. And I think that that says something too, when we talk about, you know, inequality and access to care and those types of things, here it is, I work for a large agency, and there's just not a lot of people within the BIPOC community of clients that we typically see," she said. "So I just want to say that so when I do, you know, interact with with someone, the BIPOC community, particularly usually it's someone who's who's black or Hispanic, they there's this strong sense of, of mistrust initially, even though I'm someone who, represents someone of the BIPOC community, in an obvious appearance, I am usually initially met with this mistrust, right? Like, here it is, I'm seeking services, I see you, there's some comfort in seeing you and, you know, having looked somewhat like me, and there's a representation, but because you work at a larger agency, I have this mistrust. So there's, it takes a while to begin to, to build a rapport."

Spikes said education is one aspect to help minimize that distrust.

"People of color have been burned by the healthcare system in the past and they're still being burned by the healthcare system today. So I think that that's where a large piece of that like distrust distrust I'm sorry for like the healthcare system and mental health comes from, but if we can open up this conversation more, normalize it, destigmatize it, recognize that you can be a person of color, and struggle with your mental health and there is help available to you. I think, just keeping that conversation alive, starting it early on with our children, I think will will do wonders for our community," she said.

That was Kayla Spikes and Britne Shambles from Centerstone, discussing some of the mental health challenges faced by communities of color.

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Steph Whiteside is a Digital Media News Specialist with WSIU radio in Carbondale, Ill. She previously worked as a general reporter at AJ+ and Current TV.