Curiosity, Connection, and Compassion: JF&CS Supports Minority Mental Health

July 19, 2022

Curiosity, Connection, and Compassion: JF&CS Supports Minority Mental Health

July was Minority Mental Health Month. And while mental health is extremely important, and has come a long way in terms of society’s understanding of it, there’s still much work to be done. This is especially true with mental health for marginalized groups.

Marginalized groups of people, such as individuals of color, those with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ community face unique mental health challenges that are not always easily understood. And if you are reading this, there is somebody you know and love in your life that is part of a marginalized group.

JF&CS provides resources and care to members of marginalized groups, and we are a fully supportive and inclusive environment. In honor of Minority Mental Health Month, we spoke to clinician, Jaime Stepansky and Parent Coach, Cari Newman about how to support marginalized groups, and the steps JF&CS takes to provide additional support.

Acceptance Without Action is Still Stigmatization

It’s tough growing up. You are still trying to figure out who you are, what you like, and where your place is in the world. And Parent Coach Cari mentioned that being part of a marginalized group can add layers of confusion and stress to the regular challenges of growing up.

Cari said that a lot of what we consider “acceptance” can come across as shallow and even harmful to those in marginalized groups, even though it is well-intentioned.

“We can tell a kid, ‘Oh yeah, I accept you for who you are,’ and that can be helpful,” Cari explained. “But while it’s nice to be told you’re respected and supported, that doesn’t change the feelings kids can have of feeling out of place, or like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. And it can make a kid feel guilty for having these feelings. Because they are sitting there thinking, ‘If everybody accepts me and is so nice to me, why do I still feel this way?’”

Jaime agreed, adding that the systems we have in place currently do not support marginalized groups of people. And while supportive words are nice, they aren’t impactful unless the system also changes. She calls lip service of acceptance without action “stigmatization in a new outfit.”

It’s important to understand the frustration marginalized groups can feel by being told they are supported, but not experiencing the actions that back it up. There are ways you can be supportive of marginalized groups during times like this, even if you lack the power to change anything.

How to Support Marginalized People You Love

So, what are the best ways to support the mental health of marginalized groups?

Jaime recommended staying curious, rather than trying to understand, as it’s impossible to understand how someone who is part of a marginalized group feels.

“I can never fully understand someone else’s experience, but I can stay curious and ask about it,” Jaime said. “When somebody tells you something about themselves, they are looking to connect and bring you closer to them. Curiosity, connection, and compassion is the goal.”

She also said that it’s important to avoid comparing your experience to theirs, even if you feel they are similar, and gives an example.

“If a black woman is telling me about how the overturning of Roe V. Wade is devastating to her, I can relate to that as a woman,” she said. “But because I am not black, and our bodies are different, and black women face higher maternal mortality rates during pregnancy. It’s normal to want to relate, and it’s usually well-intentioned. But remember that listening is more important. Sometimes it’s best to keep the thought in your head.”

Cari adds that, especially if you are a parent whose child is expressing themselves to you, your reaction to someone sharing with you is very important. Jaime agreed, saying we tend to be harder on younger people exploring their sexuality and gender expression.

“It’s natural for people to explore their reality when they are young,” Jaime said. “We don’t ask younger people if one day, they say they want to be a doctor when they grow up, then the next day they say they want to be an astronaut. We don’t go ‘Oh but what about being a doctor? Why are you changing your mind?’ But when it comes to gender identity, suddenly we have questions and concerns.”

Jaime noted it’s normal to feel these concerns, and to want a definitive answer from your child when things seem confusing. But she mentioned that seeking out a definitive answer does more harm than good, and supporting your child in their journey to discovering their identity is more helpful than wanting a definitive answer.

"Diversity is why the world works, and it’s important,” Jaime said. “If a farmer plants the same seed year after year in a plot, the field dies. We are like a field as a society; we need variety. Instead of taking the attitude of ‘You are different, but we accept you anyway,’ for people, try saying ‘I love that you are who you are. Thanks for being you.’”

JF&CS is currently holding groups for people in marginalized communities and has plans to hold more groups in the future. The In Your Time Group, run by Jaime and Isabel Groedel, is for women-identifying individuals in their late 20s and early 30s who struggle with society’s timeline and expectations for them. There are also upcoming support groups in August for LGBTQ kids and their parents, and a separate group for LGBTQ teens and their parents. For more information on these groups, please view this flyer.

In addition, we have three clinicians that are trained in LGBTQ Affirming Therapy. We also offer a variety of programs and services to individuals with disabilities and their families through our Intellectual & Developmental Services (IDDS), such as supportive employment, a day program, and independent living homes.

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