July is observed for National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month which brings awareness to struggles faced by minority communities in regards to mental health. As an African-American woman with epilepsy, I have struggled with my own mental health issues. I’ve always felt it was my responsibility to educate my peers about the epilepsy-related stigmas and correct their misconceptions of my condition. This onus, however, left me susceptible to judgement and ostracism. These feelings led to anxiety and diminished self-esteem. Understanding that anxiety had also been one of the onsets for my seizures, I had to find a way to prioritize my mental health. I attended counseling; I began to journal; and I also embraced opportunities to speak about my experience and participate in conversations surrounding epilepsy-related challenges.
My efforts to cope with my anxiety challenged another stigma as well: mental health stigma associated with the minority community. Uncertainty of access to mental healthcare and feelings of isolation have evolved into a mental health stigma that has plagued the minority community. One study showed that 63% of Black people believe that a mental health condition is a sign of personal weakness. Moreover, I felt my responsibility was not only to combat the stigma of epilepsy but also minority communities. Now, my identities as an individual with epilepsy and a person of color had intersected in addressing this health-related stigma.
Negative attitudes and misconceptions towards mental health conditions are pervasive in the epilepsy community and the minority community. Project Purple Butterfly’s Purpose initiative explores ways to bring public awareness to issues faced by people of color who have epilepsy, including this correlation between epilepsy-related psychological distress and the perception of mental health in the minority community. The following are ways to relieve mental health stigmas:
Participate in open conversation about the misconceptions and wrong beliefs about mental health.
Provide or research information on promoting mental health
Educate family, friends, and colleagues about the unique challenges of mental illness within the Black community and people with epilepsy
If you’re willing to disclose, tell your story of mental health which can help dismantle the perceptions that are only based on hearsay
While these suggestions are not the only way to relieve these stigmas and this intersection is not applicable to all individuals with epilepsy, taking these steps can improve the lives and well-being of all those with epilepsy and members of minority communities.