In May 2008, the United States House of Representatives declared July as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and BIPOC* Mental Health Awareness Month. This declaration was the result of advocate and author Bebe Moore Campbell seeking to highlight mental health concerns in minority communities, particularly the Black community, as well as the disparities in treatment and mortality in these communities compared to white communities.
Bebe Moore Campbell was a teacher, journalist, and best-selling author, writing for publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Essence and Ebony before transitioning to fiction novel writing. Although fiction was her focus in the 1990s, she wrote about the stereotyping of Black people, and countered them by choosing to paint her characters as wealthy and successful. She also focused on real events impacting the Black community, such as the lynching of Emmett Till.
Moore Campbell first focused on mental health in the Black community through the writing of her children’s book, Sometimes My Mommy Gets Angry, highlighting a little girl’s experience of growing up with a mentally ill mother. She was awarded an Outstanding Media Award for Literature by The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for this book in 2003. She followed up with The 72-Hour Hold, referencing the typical length of time someone is placed under an involuntary psychiatric hospitalization order. This book focused on bipolar disorder, and was inspired by a family member of Bebe.
Bebe Moore Campbell was also a founding member of the NAMI Inglewood chapter, which expanded into the NAMI Urban Los Angeles Chapter in California. She advocated by speaking out against stigma of mental illness, and promoted treatment and education in communities of color, and used her platform to push this agenda into the focus of mainstream society. She assembled a taskforce along with her friend, Linda Wharton-Boyd, to push legislation to spread awareness, encourage mental health checkups, access to medications, community mental health services, and declaration of a minority mental health awareness month. Sadly, Bebe Moore Campbell abruptly became ill with brain cancer, and lost her battle with the disease in November 2006. Wharton-Boyd continued the rally for an awareness month, and Representatives Albert Wynn of Maryland and Diane Watson of California co-signed legislation, which passed.
Although strides have been made to reduce stigma and connect people to mental health care, more work is still to be done in BIPOC* communities. An American Psychological Association report found that in 2015, only 4% of psychologists are Black, 5% are Hispanic, and 5% are Asian. Roughly 30% of Black and Hispanic adults living with mental illness actually receive care, and there is continued lack of access to medications and preventative community mental health care. We can honor Bebe Moore Campbell’s efforts by striving for inclusivity and wide reaching access to care, and continued advocacy efforts against stigma, and for prevention to curb the need for inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations. Equity in mental health care is wellness for us all!
For resources, information and statistics related to minority mental health, check out:
*Black and Indigenous Persons of Color