Twenty-five percent of African Americans seek treatment for mental health issues, compared to 40 percent of white individuals. THE PEOPLE SPEAK!/FLICKR VIA CC BY 2.0

Older generations of people of color, I’ve noticed, do not believe in mental illness or recognize it as legitimate. They disregard depression as “laziness” and think of bipolar episodes as “outbursts” or “overreacting.” Because they don’t understand the symptoms of mental illness, or inherently choose to disregard them, they are hurting both themselves and others by discouraging treatment.

I’ve seen older people of color stigmatize mental illness for various reasons. Many people from the Baby Boomer Generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980) sacrificed their mental, physical and emotional health to try to survive financially in America. Immigrants or minority groups from the Baby Boomer Generation and Generation X make up almost 38 percent of the present day population due to the passing of the Immigration Act of 1965. They prioritized financial security and success over their health. In her thesis, former mental health counselor Catherine C. Parker wrote, “Baby Boomers were repeatedly told how much their parents had sacrificed to create opportunities for their children and that they were expected to be more financially successful than their parents.” They associated their struggles with trying to be successful and working hard. Because their generation did not recognize or link possible symptoms to mental illnesses, they passed on their unfamiliarity to the next generation: millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996). This is why there are so many adults of color who respond to younger generations’ complaints with something along the lines of: “I had to make money, go to school, learn the language and support a family all at the same time. So whatever it is you’re complaining about, it is not as hard as what I had to go through.”

Some don’t believe you can be mentally ill if you have certain values in life, such as family, gratitude and dedication. I have had adults tell me that talking to people and interacting with others can “prevent” mental illness. After hearing about other people’s experiences with mental illness, I know that social interaction often hurts them.

There are some people who believe that treatment is for “crazy people” with “real psychological issues.” One of my close Hispanic friends was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and had to be hospitalized. I remember talking to an adult who is Asian about this and how worried I was about her. She replied with, “If she has a good, happy family, she should be fine.” Her response revealed that she believed that if everything in your life was “fine,” then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with you. Similarly, an Asian American recounted “My parents didn’t take into account that it was a mental stress situation. They were just like, ‘You need to eat.’”

Traditions and cultures that were retained when older generations immigrated here can bar people from recognizing mental illnesses. For example, Donna Grandbois, professor at North Dakota State University, conducted research about American Indians and Alaska Natives that shows the “greater the deculturation and reculturation process, the more amenable the person will be to accepting the diagnostic and treatment process of the dominant culture.”

According to The New Republic, a suicide note from an Indian man named Neil Grover explained, I had everything, but life is a double-edged sword. If I tell everything, I will lose everything.” Similarly, there are also many families who believe that suicide, which is often linked to depression, is a sign of weakness or “giving up.” Many families of color believe that strength and pushing forward keeps people from failing.

Along with the differing opinions between generations, there are other external factors that inhibit people of color from getting the care they need. According to Huffington Post, only 25 percent of African Americans seek mental health treatment, compared to 40 percent of white individuals. A majority of communities of color do not have access to the proper care that they need to get better. A national study in the International Journal of Health Services found that minority children and young adults have significantly less access to mental health care than non-minorities. 

Because there are so few people that utilize or know about mental health facilities, they are unable to share their resources or help each other out by offering referrals.

All students on campus have Stony Brook’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) for treatment. This on-campus facility is a great tool for people of color because the counselors keep student records confidential. This allows the students who do not want their families to know that they are using the service to get the help they need. This is an important resource for students of color because they might feel as if they don’t have anyone who will understand their mental illness. Because some were raised to believe struggling is a sign of weakness, they might feel weak when talking about their emotions. Talking to a counselor could make them feel more secure. Although all of these aspects of CAPS are great and useful, their 10-session policy needs to change. CAPS only offers 10 sessions per academic year. The restrictions of this policy affects people of color because of the inconveniences that come with seeing a counselor outside of school. They must consider how much of an impact their current rules have on the students — students of color specifically.  

In order to stop this cycle of ignorance toward mental illness, the younger generations need to be educated about the symptoms of mental illness. They need to understand that mental illnesses are just as threatening as physical illnesses — in fact, some mental illnesses can lead to physical symptoms. People of color from older generations need to be more open-minded about treatment plans and counselors. CAPS’ programs play a huge role in helping students, who often lack other resources, get the care that they need. Their policy needs to be amended, so students are able to remain with their counselors for as long as they need to. Also, people of color should re-evaluate the way they approach mental illness. Instead of brushing emotions off as complaints or weaknesses, they need to put more effort into understanding why the person is feeling this way and how they can help them. They need to consider treatment as an option of getting better rather than dismissing them by saying: “I’m not crazy.”