"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."

—Muriel Rukeyser

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OPINION: Addressing Racism is a Mental Health Imperative

by Vincent Atchity

“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”

– James Baldwin

Vincent Atchity

In July, Americans celebrate the birth of independence ― it’s the month of the national holiday when we gather and celebrate our freedom from tyrannical government. But in a country where Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are less likely to have access to mental health services and more likely to have lower quality care; in a country where Black, Indigenous, and People of Color experience discrimination and systematic alienation from Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness; in a country where we have not all been treated equally — many do not experience the freedom that has been our country’s principle source of pride.

Addressing racism is a mental health priority. For far too long, we have ignored the mental health effects of violence and systemic racism on members of our society. The systemic inequities that permeate all our lives prevent any of us from achieving healthier minds. Ignoring these inequities is a disease that destroys lives, causes the privileged to remain under-developed as humans, and threatens the vitality of the nation.

When we say that we aspire to achieve healthier minds across the lifespan for all Coloradans, we mean that we must achieve a state and a nation that isn’t like this anymore. If we’re going to have healthier minds across the lifespan for all Coloradans, we need to build a state and a nation where Black people and all People of Color don’t have to fear the police, their armed white neighbors, or that they and their descendants will be trapped forever in a system of injustice.

If we’re going to have healthier minds across the lifespan for all Coloradans, we all need to call out and correct the thinking, the manners of speech, and the behaviors that derail us from our mission. If we’re going to achieve healthier minds across the lifespan for all Coloradans, we all need to learn to be better, braver people than we have ever been before. We need a second American Revolution. We can choose to number ourselves among the revolutionaries who—with each utterance, decision, and action—join forces to free ourselves from the mind-stunting, strength-sapping twin tyrannies of proud, vaunting ignorance and smug satisfaction with the status quo. Or we can fail to rise to the challenge of this revolution and remain part of the problem, as enemies of freedom, science, and humanity. There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to the health of the mind.

Given our heartfelt understanding that Black Lives Matter, Mental Health Colorado supported a number of bills this legislative session to address or correct for disparities that have been disproportionately harmful to Colorado’s Black communities and other communities of color throughout the state’s history. There is so much more corrective work to do. We are weighted down with laws and failures in law-making that perpetuate the most disgraceful shortcomings in our still aspirational civilization.

Mental Health Colorado is following Bebe Moore Campbell’s* lead in honoring July as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Mental Health Month. When we have ensured that all Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are free at last from systematic discrimination and oppression, when all receive the support and resources needed to truly thrive, then we will be strong and thriving and will truly have cause to celebrate.

Until then, we can celebrate that we have set our sights on the worthiest goal and that we are determined to achieve it before the sun sets on another generation.

Vincent Atchity is the president & CEO of Mental Health Colorado, the state’s leading advocate in promoting mental wellness, ending shame and discrimination, and ensuring equitable access to mental health and substance use care.

*Bebe Moore Campbell was a mental health advocate, journalist, best-selling author, and teacher. Read more about her here.

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