No matter who you are, living with a mental health condition can be challenging, but for some, culture, race, and ethnic background can exacerbate mental health challenges, and create disparities in access to quality mental health care. The National Institute of Mental Health's National Healthcare Disparities Report 2012 found that "health care quality and access are suboptimal, especially for minority and low-income groups..." In response to this avoidable disparity in mental health care, the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City (NAMI-NYC Metro) held its first #IWILLLISTEN Community Mental Health Fair on July 25, 2015 at SCAN NY's Johnson Cornerstone Community Center in East Harlem to commemorate Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
In conjunction with SCAN NY's mission to provide family-focused programming to the local community, the fair achieved three important goals: it raised awareness about local mental health resources and services in Northern Manhattan, it created an opportunity for community members to access these resources, and it made progress towards normalizing mental illness and celebrating recovery and wellness.
The attendees were able to connect with 25 local organizations at the fair, including Comunilife, SAGE, Harlem Health Advocacy Partners, Strength in Numbers, LIFT, CWOP, DBGM, The Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, Northern Manhattan Perinatal Partnership, and Mount Sinai's East Harlem Health Outreach Partnership (EHHOP). In addition, as part of NAMI's recent partnership with Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), members of three local AKA chapters, Tau Omega, Pi Kappa Omega, and Eta Omega Omega, volunteered.
The event also featured educational sessions where attendees learned about mental illness, recovery and wellness from speakers with professional and lived experiences. The topics covered were: "Advocating for your own Mental Health Care," "Breathing and Meditation Practice" with Mindful Harlem, "Integrated Healthcare for the Mind, Body and Spirit" with Dr. Alyson Myers and Dr. Pierre Arty, and "Learning Healthy Coping Skills for Depression in Latino Youth" with Beatriz Coronel of Comunilife and mental health activist, Dior Vargas.
The event was just one of many NAMI-NYC Metro activations to promote #IWILLLISTEN, a campaign dedicated to increasing mental health awareness and encouraging family members, friends, and colleagues to listen to the experiences of individuals living with mental illness without judgment.
July 25th was a successful day of advocacy to commemorate National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. All of us should continue to spread the #IWILLLISTEN anti-stigma message throughout New York City's diverse communities and across the U.S. For more information on research in and resources for mental health in communities of color visit NAMI's Multicultural Action Center. Join the National Alliance on Mental Illness of New York City Metro and take the pledge to listen today.