These two women have worked together to remove the stigma of mental health in marginalized communities
At the beginning of the pandemic, the world was hit hard by economic inequalities, lost work and a global health crisis that left many their lives in the process. Affected groups include African Americans and blacks, whose mental health has been completely deprived. Between the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and the blacks who died in disproportionate frequency from COVID-19, the need for mental health support and resources was urgent. Fortunately, over 100 media companies, corporations, nonprofits and cultural professionals have come together to make a difference.
On Tuesday April 13th, more than 150 brands and organizations, including MTV Entertainment, announced the first-ever mental health day of action – the largest coordinated, cross-sector mental health day of action in history. “We created Mental Health Action Day to change our culture from awareness to action,” said Noopur Agarwal, vice president of social impact at MTV Entertainment, to For (bes) The Culture. “The pandemic has exacerbated the mental health problems of millions, and we want to help people find concrete actions they can take for themselves, their loved ones, and their community.”
Agarwal told For (bes) The Culture that MTV was his too “Mental health is health” Initiative earlier this year that âaims to normalize conversation, connect to resources, and stimulate mental health actionâ while ârooted in the reality that we are all mentally healthy and we need to care how we do it with our physical health â. . âIn May, the Mental Health Storytelling Coalition, convened by MTV Entertainment Group, debuted the free 3-day virtual Better together: Storytelling Summit for Mental Health, having powerful conversations about mental health advocacy with visionaries and thought leaders from across the entertainment industry including Oprah Winfrey, HER, Anthony Anderson, Charlamagne tha God, Kenya Barris, Miguel and more.
During the Mental Health Awareness Month, For (bes) The Culture had the opportunity to chat with Agarwal and Dr. Joy Harden-Bradford, Founder of Therapy for Black Girls, on Racial Trauma in the Black Community, MTV’s efforts to de-stigmatize conversations about mental health, and the importance of providing resources to blacks and other marginalized communities.
For (bes) the culture: What is the significance of Mental Health Awareness Month?
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford: It is a concentrated effort where different units work together with the aim of helping others learn more about mental health. It’s an excellent opportunity to connect with new resources and learn new things about how to take better care of yourself.
For (bes) the culture: As a therapist, how did you experience how racist trauma and triggers of police brutality and racial injustice have profoundly affected the black community?
Dr. Bradford: The effects of police brutality and racial injustice have been significant in the black community. During an already stressful time, blacks have experienced additional fear, frustration, anger, and hopelessness related to the fact that we are still not viewed as fully human. The toll this can take is critical. It can lead to mood disorders, insomnia, and a greater sense of isolation.
For (bes) the culture: Noopur, as a woman of color, how do you make sure that you deal with your mental health in everyday life?
Noopur Agarwal: It is so important to treat our mental health as a core part of our overall health. For me, this means being open about how I feel and never shrinking from talking about my emotional wellbeing. I am also fortunate to have a strong support system in place and I rely on these people when necessary.
For (bes) the culture: How have you both seen mental health and the entertainment industry work hand in hand?
Dr. Bradford: I’ve really been inspired by attempts to add more mental health stories to entertainment lately. I think we are paying more attention to what mental health looks like in everyday life and not just in times of crisis. I also enjoyed seeing more depictions of characters going into therapy and receiving support, as I think these things can go a long way in reducing the stigma associated with mental health.
Agar whale: MTV has a long history of working with mental health experts that goes back 15 years since we launched our Peabody Award-winning youth mental health campaign. As I worked on this campaign, I experienced the power of storytelling firsthand. Artists like Mary J Blige, Demi Lovato and Macklemore have bravely opened up about their emotional struggles with brave young people from across the country.
These true stories ultimately helped break the stigma, fuel the search for help, and fundamentally change the nationwide discussion about mental health. Given the impact we could make through storytelling, it was clear that we needed to think bigger and take advantage of one of our greatest assets: our shows. A study published by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in 2019 found that only 7% of TV screenplay characters had a mental illness, compared to nearly 20% of the general population. And when mental illnesses were portrayed, the portrayals often perpetuated stigmatization and very rarely showed people seeking help.
When storylines about emotional health surfaced in our content, for example in VH1’s “Black Ink Crew: Chicago,” one of the key actors, Pho, revealed his depression to the actor. We worked closely with experts to make sure his act conveys a positive message while connecting viewers to resources. Not only did his storylines portray the topic in an organic way, but they also met with huge audiences, especially the black community who have viewed the topic as banned and attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers to seek resources and help. This type of high impact show integration work is being done across the industry with the support of many leading expert organizations. And while the commitment to this work is inspiring, there is still a long way to go.
For (bes) the culture: How can the Mental Health Action Day movement be more supportive of black communities and other marginalized groups during this time?
Dr. Bradford: It is important to donate funds to groups and organizations that are already doing an incredible job of providing access and resources for mental health in the black community and other marginalized communities. New initiatives are not always necessary. Sometimes it is more effective to find the people who are already doing the job and reinforce their messages and provide them with resources so that they can move on.
Agar whale: From the stressors of systemic racism and ongoing incidents of police brutality to anti-Asian violence and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on blacks, Latinos / a / x and indigenous peoples. Through Mental Health Day of Action, we purposely bring together partners who can reach BIPOC communities and together reinforce the message that we need to take action to support our mental health. From Color Of Change to Black Girls Smile and beyond, partner activations will take many forms and be tailored to the needs of each community.
Another way to support mental health in BIPOC communities is to strengthen the representation of different communities in content. Seeing members of our own community grapple with mental health issues on screen can have a huge impact on how we perceive mental health, how we talk about it, and our propensity to seek help and help others. For this reason, the Mental Health Media Guide provides specific recommendations on how to authentically tell these stories in a way that resonates with marginalized communities, who are often underrepresented in the entertainment media and at greater risk for mental health problems.