How identity impacts mental health
Grace Sullivan | Monday, September 11, 2023
With the start of National Suicide Prevention Month this September, it is important to acknowledge all of the people who have struggled with mental health issues while also normalizing mental health care and promoting important resources. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S. and 1 death from suicide occurs every 11 minutes. Many individuals, families and communities are impacted by suicide and it is important that people are made aware of what causes this issue and are provided with appropriate resources to destigmatize taking care of their mental health.
Our society stigmatizes mental health by framing it as an issue that you can fix yourself or generally denying it when in reality, it is an issue that is impossible to fix on your own. When considering the structures of power that exist in our society, it is important to think about how the issue of mental health impacts different identities in different ways. In a white-supremacist, patriarchal society, white men are the most privileged identity group. Yet, white men account for nearly 70% of suicides demonstrating that men are also victims of the patriarchy. While men still receive privilege from this system, the stereotype that men should be strong and deal with issues by themselves causes men to delay seeking health care, ignore symptoms of mental illness and hold information back when seeing a doctor, according to Baton Rouge General. Additionally, only 1 in 4 men who report daily feelings of depression have talked to a mental health professional. The stigma of receiving mental health treatment stems from gender-based stereotypes, but it is also important to consider other factors in healthcare that prevent certain identity groups from receiving adequate health care.
While white people account for most of the increase in total suicides from 2020-2021, year after year the percentage increases were greater among Black Americans and Hispanic Americans. Additionally, the suicide rates of American Indian and Alaska Native populations increased in 2020 while the statistics among white men remained relatively the same. Although there are limitations in data surrounding the connection between race and health care, racial and ethnic groups differ in their access to culturally-appropriate behavioral health treatment and experiences of discrimination and mental health trauma. The racism that exists within the health care system is shown through the reluctance to diagnose mental health issues and instead diagnose black youth with behavioral issues which increases their risk for suicide. Additionally, structural factors reinforce racism and discrimination and elevate exposure to potentially traumatic events. For example, black youth are more likely to experience punitive treatment in education and juvenile justice systems.
Other groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, especially the transgender community, face a wide variety of challenges with their mental health due the variety of barriers they face to receive the health care they need. The Trevor Project’s “2023 US National Survey on the Mental Health of LGBTQ+ Young People” found that over half of the transgender and nonbinary community had seriously considered attempting suicide. Researchers suggest that this statistic stems from experiences of harassment, abuse, family rejection and discrimination.
With all of these statistics, it is apparent that patriarchal norms, racial inequality and gender inequality overlap and intersect to impact the mental health and well-being of particular identities. People that fall in these identity groups are reluctant to seek health care because of harmful gender stereotypes that perpetuate toxic masculinity, racism and general discrimination in the health care system and society at large. The factor of social media only adds to these already existing issues among youth due to the increase in cyberbullying, increased feelings of loneliness and social comparison all of which intensify the prevalence of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Keeping all of this information in mind, it is extremely important that we continue to create conversation around this issue to let people who are struggling with their mental health know that they are not alone and that most importantly, it is not their fault. While there are forms of discrimination embedded in our society that exacerbate mental health issues, everyone’s mental health struggles are valid. To find important information regarding how our society functions, we need to consider how different identity groups overlap and intersect and how the effects of those overlaps impact the mental well-being of individuals. Every person struggles with mental health in a different way and regardless if those issues are connected to your identity or not, know that your life matters, you are important and that the world would not be the same without you in it. If you or a loved one is experiencing depressive or suicidal thoughts, here are some resources that will help.
During National Suicide Prevention Month, let your loved ones and yourself know that you matter by prioritizing self care and your relationships with others. Your story isn’t over, don’t end your sentence, keep on going;
Grace Sullivan is a sophomore at Notre Dame studying Global Affairs with minors in Gender and Peace Studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T. (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at [email protected].
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.