This #MentalHealthMatters blog post was written by Jared Hammond, Music Therapist and Coordinator, Bridges Day Treatment Program and Chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee at at Ravenwood Health.

Stigma-a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. 

Racism-prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized. 

May is #MentalHealthAwarenessMonth. We draw attention to awareness, not because we did not know mental health and illness were there, but because we understand that we do not know everything we might need to know about the subject. Did you know that talking about suicide does not increase someone’s risk for attempting or completing suicide? Talking about it can make someone feel seen and heard in their struggles. Talking about it can allow someone to seek the help they need. The idea that we should not talk about it is a stigma. And that stigma does increase risk for attempting or completing suicide among people just like us. 

May is also #AsianPacificAmericanHeritageMonth. We draw attention to the heritage of certain groups of people based on culture, ethnicity, and ancestry, not because we did not know they exist, but because we understand that we do not know everything we might need to know about them. Did you know that Asian Pacific Americans trace their heritage back to over 50 different ethnic and regional groupings? Sometimes we assume that people who look similar are all the same. Sometimes we assume that people who are not white are not American. These are both examples of racism. And that racism, intentional or unintentional, hurts people just like us. 

There are times when stigma or racism will result for active and purposeful hatred directed at a certain person or group of people. But more often than not, it results from a lack of knowledge. What we do not know leads to a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding leads to fear. Fear leads words or actions that cause hurt and hardship. The idea that we were the cause of a hurt or hardship leads us to discomfort. Discomfort leads us to disengage from, and even fight against, the conversation. 

This month and every month, I would like challenge you, as I will challenge myself to learn about people. We will never know everything, but what we know might avoid a misunderstanding. Or it might calm our fears. Maybe it will give us pause before we say or do something that might hurt. It could motivate us to make amends and do better in the future. It will not make the conversation any more comfortable, but it could give us the courage to speak. 

People living with mental illness and Asian Pacific Americans, like many others, are facing stigma and racism in the world around us right now. Our first step towards supporting these people like us, is to learn and grow. I know it will be so much better if we can do it together. 

For more information about mental health stigma, I recommend Look Me In The Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robison and The Hospital Always Wins by Issa Ibrahim. For more information about anti-Asian racism in America I recommend No-No Boy by John Okada and Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama by Diane C. Fujino. 

I am currently reading Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain.