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Advocate for Mental Health Equity This Juneteenth

Written by Ethan King
Published on June 19, 2024

Imagine learning about your freedom two and a half years late. The upcoming holiday “Juneteenth”—celebrated on June 19th—marks such a moment of delayed justice for many African Americans in the United States.

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth commemorates the 1865 announcement to formerly enslaved African Americans of their emancipation in Galveston, Texas—two and a half years after the official abolition of slavery in the US by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. The history of Juneteenth and its continued celebration serve as a testament to the resilience of the Black community, as well as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle for freedom, equality, and human rights today.

Juneteenth is not only a commemoration of a historical event; it is also a stark reminder of the racial disparities that continue to permeate society today. Recognizing the significance of Juneteenth requires considering the impact of historical and ongoing racial disparities on mental health. A report by the American Psychological Association reveals that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

The traumas endured by Black Americans, from slavery to present-day discrimination, have lasting effects on mental well-being. By addressing the challenges faced by Black Americans, we can create a more inclusive and supportive mental health environment for communities of color. As we celebrate Juneteenth, let’s commit to advocating for mental health equity, ensuring every individual—regardless of race or ethnicity—has access to the resources and support they deserve for their mental well-being.

The History of Juneteenth

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, which abolished slavery in the United States. Two years later, on June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to announce General Order No. 3, which enforced by legal decree the Emancipation Proclamation by declaring the liberation of the final enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy. Due to the slow spread of information and the resistance of enslavers, many people who were enslaved in remote regions in the U.S. South had been unaware of their freedom until Granger’s arrival.

The first Juneteenth celebrations were held in Texas one year later, in 1866. They involved church gatherings, prayer meetings, and the singing of spirituals. Those celebrating often wore new clothes as a way to represent their newfound freedom. Over time, these celebrations spread throughout the South, making Juneteenth an annual tradition for many freedmen and freedwomen in the region. Juneteenth only gained official holiday status in Texas in 1980, and finally, in 2021, after years of advocacy and demonstrations about racial issues, it became a federal holiday, representing a long-awaited recognition of the vital contribution of African American history to our nation’s culture. Celebrations today continue to embody the resilience and cultural pride of African Americans. Importantly, these celebrations also carry forward the drive for racial equality and justice, a drive that is as resonant today as it was over one hundred and fifty years ago.

Race and Mental Health

The historical context of Juneteenth provides a crucial foundation for understanding present-day challenges faced by African Americans, especially in the realm of mental health. The harsh realities of slavery, including family separations, abuse, and denial of basic human rights, created deep-rooted psychological trauma that was passed down through generations. Following the abolition of slavery, Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation and further entrenched racial inequalities. The Civil Rights Movement, while achieving significant progress, also exposed African Americans to intense psychological stress and societal resistance. Scholars like Dr. Joy DeGruy have linked centuries of racial trauma to present-day mental health issues. According to DeGruy, the lasting psychological impact of slavery and racial prejudice has resulted in generational stress and increased vulnerability to mental health disorders among African Americans.

Mental health outcomes today are often affected by disparities in access to care, diagnosis, and treatment. African Americans face systemic barriers like economic inequality, limited healthcare access, and bias within the medical community. African Americans often have limited access to mental health services, and when they do receive care, it is often of lower quality than that provided to their white counterparts. Financial barriers, lack of culturally competent care providers, and the ongoing stress of experiencing discrimination and racial microaggressions contribute to a higher prevalence of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD among African Americans. Despite this, studies have shown that African Americans are less likely to receive accurate mental health diagnoses, often being misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed due to cultural misunderstandings and stereotypes.

Advancing Mental Health Equity

The celebration of Juneteenth provides an opportunity to advocate for mental health equity and address the unique needs of African American communities, reminding us that achieving true freedom and equality extends beyond legal and political realms to include mental and emotional well-being. Understanding historical and systemic factors is crucial for addressing mental health disparities and working towards equitable mental health care for all. Here are ways we might foster a more supportive and equitable mental health environment:

  1. Promote Open Dialogue on Race & Mental Health: Although conversations on race and mental health can be difficult to initiate, they are necessary to promote awareness and change. In your daily interactions, don’t shy away from these discussions. Create a safe space where people of different identities can express their experiences and perspectives without judgment. Remember to amplify their voices and respect their experiences.
  2. Self-Education: Equip yourself with knowledge about historical and present racial struggles, disparities, and inequities. Understand how systemic racism manifests and consider its implications on mental health outcomes.
  3. Mindfulness of Representation: Representation matters even in the context of mental health. Advocate for people of color in media, as it can validate their experiences, break stereotypes, and encourage others to seek help.
  4. Advocate for Equitable Healthcare Policy: Policies at local, state, and national levels play a major role in shaping healthcare access and quality. Stay informed about health policy discussions. Voice support for mental health equity legislation and vote for advocates of these policies.

Contact Us Today!

The celebration of Juneteenth demonstrates the strength of African American communities. It is a day for healing, validation, empowerment, and cultural pride. However, the journey of understanding racial struggles does not end on June 19th. As we move beyond June 19th and into July, which is BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month, let us continue to learn and apply our learning in real and tangible ways to advocate for change—not just for some, but for all. After all, true growth only occurs when shared knowledge inspires collective action. How will you use your awareness to promote mental health equity in your community?

celebrate Juneteenth in 2022

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