There are vast inequities in mental health among marginalized communities – why is this the case, and what can we do about it?
Just about anything can have an impact on our mental health, but our personal identities particularly play a large role and our experiences and healing journeys will look different.
Social circumstances also influence our mental health and wellbeing. The most significant social influences are: level of social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence, and access to economic resources.
The level at which we are impacted by these is driven by our identities, including gender, sex, class, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, and more. Marginalized groups of people may experience poorer, more complex mental health outcomes in their daily lives as a result.
Before going into how we can promote mental health among diverse and marginalized groups, we must acknowledge and actively consider the role of intersectionality. Intersectionality focuses on the overlap of marginalized identities, and suggests that many power systems are intertwined and cannot be viewed separately.
This means, we must look at the whole person when promoting mental health. Understanding that not all mental health outcomes are the result of what happens in our social world – that personal trauma and experiences also contribute – we must appreciate and honour lived experience to promote mental health for marginalized groups.
For example, a young, white, upper-middle class cisgender woman that is part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community may experience mental health issues related to sexism and homophobia. Individuals in the LGBTQIA2S+ community are 2x as likely to report suicidal ideation than their heterosexual and cisgender counterparts.
Within the LGBTQIA2S+ community, transgender people are even more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide than other members of this community – including gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. This is a significant health disparity, driven by lack of social acceptance which impacts people in this community.
While this woman may be more at risk for developing such mental health issues, she also has white privilege and class privilege which protects her from racism and economic struggles – things that others in LGBTQIA2S+ community may also have to deal with.
Systemic racism and colonialism also have profound effects on mental health, specifically for Indigenous communities in Canada. In comparison to the non-Indigenous population, there are much higher rates of poverty, substance use, and violence, which contribute to poorer mental health outcomes for these communities.
Suicide rates among Indigenous individuals are twice as high as the national average. Reports have shown there is lack of access to culturally appropriate mental health services that value Indigenous ways of knowing.
We also know that people from the Indigenous and LGBTQIA2S+ communities experience higher rates of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, trauma, substance use and suicidal ideation. This illustrates why intersectionality is so important in understanding mental health inequities.
What can we do?
While social change takes time, we can work at an individual level and in our communities to promote mental health and wellbeing. Centering the voices of marginalized groups is fundamental in this process.
Key things we can do:
1. Critical self-reflection
- Reflecting on your own identity – What groups do/don't you belong to?
- Reflecting on your unearned privileges – What identities do you have that have protected you from harm and/or oppression? How so?
- Reflecting on your positionality – In what ways do you hold a position of power? How does this impact your interactions with others and your assumptions about them?
2. Don’t make assumptions. If you are providing care for a person, ask them what may be their unique needs so that you can provide inclusive care for them.
3. Educate yourself about the risk factors to mental health of diverse communities, in order to appreciate their unique challenges and considerations for their care.
4. Set an example for others by being inclusive in your actions and words.
If you are struggling with your own mental health and wish to seek support, Lifemark offers a variety of services that can help you in your healing journey. If you wish to schedule an appointment, check our locations page to find a clinic near you or book online.
This blog was written by Liv Biehn & Marie-Claire Lister, 2nd Year Occupational Therapy students from Queen’s University.