One day during lunch, therapists Eliza Boquin and Eboni Harris found themselves in a deep discussion about the challenges of being minority women in the mental health field. And in January, Boquin turned that talk into a Facebook page, creatively titled Melanin and Mental Health.
Her goals with the page were simple at first: providing an online space to promote get-togethers within the mental health community, to create connections with other clinicians, and to offer information and resources about mental health to a general audience. Soon, Boquin and Harris had joined forces on Facebook, where their audience grew and grew, hungry for these types of discussions in a field where minority voices are rarely amplified.
Today, they have over 1,000 followers, and have already held two successful networking events that included clinicians, mental health advocates, medical practitioners and other attendees. Meanwhile, Melanin and Mental Health has grown beyond its Facebook roots into a full-blown resource for forging organic connections between health professionals and their clients, while also working to erase the stigma of mental illness among the black and Hispanic communities.
“I think it’s important [to have] more therapists that do represent our communities out there—[there’s] a great need for us to be represented in the [mental] health field,” Boquin says.
A 2007 report by the Annapolis Coalition on the Behavioral Health Workforce stated that 30 percent of the U.S. population is comprised of minority groups. However, whites make up over three-quarters of America’s mental health field in areas such as psychiatry, psychology, counseling and marriage and family therapy. This disparity is not surprising to Boquin and Harris, who are personally aware of the small amount of minority women and men in the mental health world.
Within a few months of creating Melanin and Mental Healthy, Boquin and Harris realized there was a need to highlight these minority therapists, as well as therapists—no matter their race—who were capable of connecting with clients who come from a different racial background.
“For us we’re kind of looking at culturally competent clinicians,” Harris says. “You don’t have to be a minority, but can you be aware of what our cultures are going through and are you able to take care of our clients?”
Boquin adds: “We’ll get phone calls because people are looking specifically for clinicians that look like them. They want to know that you’re going to understand on some level the cultural piece [of them].”
Of equal importance, Boquin and Harris have found, is their work to educate minority communities about mental health, de-stigmatizing the notion that addressing your mental health is a sign of weakness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that black and Hispanic people are said to use mental health services at about half the rate as white people.
“There’s no denying that our communities are strong and resilient and all those things, but imagine how much better we would be if we got help,” Harris says. As minority women and relationship therapists, Harris and Boquin understand the struggles minorities deal with—but they also know that a positive focus on mental health can be used to forge deeper connections and facilitate healthy change.
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Though Melanin and Mental Health is still a young program, Harris and Boquin have big plans for their movement: They hope to create an online directory that will give those in Houston and beyond the resources to find the appropriate mental health professional to meet their specific needs.
They also plan to continue their monthly events— they’re hosting a Power of Connection mixer on August 18 that aims to help mental health professionals connect with minority colleagues and clients—and they're looking to expand to other cities and towns, promoting engaging conversions concerning mental health in minority communities.
“We [have] to keep talking about [mental health],” Boquin says. “I think we need to keep having events where the community can come out and meet clinicians. And I think we need to continue to talk about [mental health] in a way that people can relate to.”