In 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives declared July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in honor and remembrance of author and advocate Bebe Moore Campbell. Mrs. Campbell, who passed away in 2006, was the co-founder of NAMI Urban Los Angeles.

While I reflect on Mrs. Campbell’s life this month, I am reminded of a recent conversation I had with a colleague. She asked me, “Why do people talk about mental health for African Americans or Latinos specifically? Isn’t mental health care and treatment the same for them as it is for the general population? Why can’t people just see that we are really all the same?”

Let me say that I was very pleased that she felt comfortable enough to ask me the question. I am sure she is not the only person who has thought that same thing but was afraid to ask. My response was simply, “Because we are not all the same. There are unique differences not only in the issues that face individuals of color but also around access to quality treatment that is culturally and linguistically appropriate.” It is like saying that we both have curly hair and should be able to use the same hair products (which we all know is not always ideal). If you used my hair products or I used yours, there could be a new definition for the term “bad hair day.”

I felt really validated by my response when I received an email this morning from my colleague and friend, Rick Ybarra, sharing a recent article about the California study, “Population Report of the California Reducing Disparities Project (CRDP): African American Strategic Planning Workgroup (SPW).” It reminded me how important it is for us to continue to educate ourselves in order to address the misunderstanding about mental health in our communities.

In honor of Mrs. Campbell and to recognize Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage everyone to learn more about the mental health needs of African Americans. I invite you to join me in reviewing the report and sharing your thoughts. I know the report is filled with information and data that will help identify strategies for addressing the mental health needs of the African American community.

This is the perfect month to start committing ourselves to raising awareness and addressing the stigma in our communities.