While the Juneteenth holiday comes once a year on June 19th and the surrounding weekend, mental health equity is a year-round cause. Learning more about this foundational holiday and how it illuminates the importance of racial equity in mental healthcare can be essential to safeguarding yourself and your community.
What Is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated on June 19th to honor the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. The holiday can be traced to Galveston, Texas, where approximately 2,000 troops arrived on June 19th, 1865, and announced the freedom of more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in Texas.
Before this day, some people remained enslaved despite the Emancipation Proclamation, passed in 1863 to free enslaved people in the US In places still under Confederate control, including Galveston, Texas. Many people remained enslaved until the end of the Civil War in 1865, and slavery existed for years after.
In 1980, Texas officially recognized Juneteenth as "Emancipation Day," a statewide holiday. Though many people have celebrated Juneteenth since 1866, many states did not recognize the holiday until President Joe Biden officially declared Juneteenth as a national holiday on June 17th, 2021.
The national recognition of Juneteenth follows an emotional and lengthy journey, heightened by the killing of George Floyd in 2020. Celebrators and supporters of the holiday have worked to raise awareness of this seminal summer day and to remind US citizens and international individuals why the US honors this moment in history. Juneteenth also relates to another event called Black History Month, which strives to celebrate the contributions and acknowledge the sacrifices made by Black and African Americans.
How Is Juneteenth Celebrated?
People celebrate Juneteenth in various ways, and many families maintain longstanding traditions to honor the holiday. Some US states have parades, picnics, and gatherings with friends and family to play games, impart stories, and connect over food. You may also witness public readings, singing, church services, rodeos, contests, and concerts.
Food often plays a role in Juneteenth celebrations regardless of the focal activity. Since 1866, the first year of Juneteenth celebrations, many families have passed down comfort foods and celebratory dishes to commemorate the day.
Signature recipes include red velvet cake, strawberry soda, and barbecued or grilled meats. There’s actually a special emphasis on red food and red drinks during this celebration as well. However, individuals can also approach old favorites creatively or concoct new fare. According to journalist Toni Tipton-Martin, the point of the holiday is to celebrate and commemorate with food and festivities for families impacted. Food, family, and friends are all significant components of community mental health on Juneteenth and throughout the calendar year.
How To Celebrate Juneteenth As A Non-Black Person
Millions of Black people and their loved ones engage in food-filled celebrations of freedom, faith, and community.
If you're a white person or a non-Black person, you can honor Juneteenth while taking care to avoid cultural appropriation and center Black Americans in your celebrations. To properly celebrate Juneteenth, be mindful about speaking over Black Americans or taking away from their traditions. In addition, respect the ways Black people choose to celebrate and sustain their cultural traditions without adding to them.
Some people have also asked companies and individuals to avoid the commodification of Juneteenth. When restaurants, museums, and other institutions promote one-time Juneteenth "specials," discounts, or limited-edition products, they may minimize the holiday's rich history by trying to profit off the pain and trauma of Black families.
Juneteenth: A Reminder Of Mental Health Equity
With history in mind, Juneteenth is also an opportunity to point out and condemn modern examples of racial inequity in mental healthcare. These injustices persist in the US and abroad. As advocates for equity, it can be essential to note that the end of slavery did not mark the end of all racial injustice or crime against Black individuals. To understand this concept, it can be essential to understand the differences between equality and equity.
What Is The Difference Between Equality And Equity?
Equity can be essential in conversations about racial discrimination and mental health. While equality means that every individual or group of people receives the same resources or opportunities, equity recognizes that every individual has different circumstances. Therefore, in equitable scenarios, different people receive the exact resources and opportunities they need to achieve the same outcome, even if these resources are different.
Historically, racial justice conversations often focus on the word "equality": a marked progression from 1866, when newly freed people first celebrated Juneteenth. In theory, equality can seem fair, as each person receives the same as another. However, an equality mindset can increase the disparity between individuals, as each person is born with different opportunities and resources.
When people assume that everyone begins working toward their goals from the same spot, they may experience and witness inequities along the way. Suppose you begin with equity as a starting point and goal. In that case, you may recognize that different communities and individuals need varying resources to achieve the same goals, including time, money, accommodation, and education.
Statistics On Racial Inequity In Mental Health Care
In the context of mental health, the difference between equity and equality influences the ability to support people of all backgrounds, including those of racial and ethnic minority groups. For some, Juneteenth may be one of the few days of the year that this distinction is thoroughly discussed. However, for lasting change, these discussions can be essential to have past June.
Based on national details gathered by the American Psychological Association (APA), people from racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental healthcare. In 2015, they found that 48% of white people received mental health services among adults with a mental illness, compared to 31% of Black and Hispanic people and 22% of Asians.
Racial discrimination and cultural norms can prevent people from getting quality mental healthcare. In addition, cultural upbringings can shape perspectives on mental illness. In some cultures, mental illness is stigmatized and may be viewed as a source of shame rather than a legitimate health concern.
Statistics On Racism And Mental Health
In mental health settings, cultural nuances are often complicated by racism. Care providers are more likely to diagnose Black American clients with schizophrenia and overlook symptoms of major depression compared to their treatment of clients with other racial or ethnic backgrounds. Similarly, Black children are over-diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder relative to white peers, which promotes poorer educational and health outcomes.
The disparity between white and Black Americans extends to all aspects of healthcare. Both patients and clinicians report misdiagnoses, ignoring patients' pain, and higher rates of death and suicide among people from ethnic and racial minorities. One study found that physicians were twice as likely to underestimate pain in Black patients compared to all other ethnicities combined.
Research demonstrates the impacts of racial discrimination on healthcare and long-term well-being. Juneteenth might occur just once a year, but it's an enduring reminder that racial equity is a historical and modern-day issue impacting all dimensions of human life.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
If you would prefer to speak to a BIPOC crisis counselor, you can call or text BlackLine at 1-800-604-5841 for peer support, resources, and affirmation. They are trained to support those struggling with mental health concerns, hate crimes, BLM-related concerns, police brutality, prison advocacy, and referrals. These individuals work from a Black feminine lens and prioritize BIPOC individuals calling for support.
What Does Mental Health Equity Look Like?
Mental health equity can look like an equitable, fair reach to quality mental healthcare: a vision that may be achieved through structural changes. Considering the US's historical background and diverse cultural makeup, individuals can restructure programs and services supporting mental health equity.
In pursuit of this vision, many clinicians, researchers, and politicians are working toward the following structural changes:
- Promoting culturally responsive care
- Integrating mental healthcare into primary care
- Increasing funding for the education and ongoing training of mental health professionals
- Making mental healthcare more affordable and customizable to individuals' budgets
In some states, leaders build community-level programs that foster positive conversations about mental health, offer culturally sensitive services, and tap into existing community support networks. Community leaders can benefit their communities by developing programs and policies based on research rather than assumptions so that mental healthcare is uniquely tailored to cultural needs and norms.
Supporting Mental Health Equity All Year
As individuals, making structural changes to mental healthcare can be daunting. However, in the spirit of Juneteenth, federally recognized 150 years after its conception, it can be beneficial to recognize that important work takes time. While it might feel like your actions are a drop in the bucket, investing in your well-being and supporting the mental health of others makes an impact.
Today, many therapists now specialize in supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Often, these therapists are also affiliates of the BIPOC community and integrate their personal insights with professional training.
If you're interested in working with a therapist who uses insight for BIPOC clients or culturally-based practices. Many professionals now offer their services online. Online counseling through a platform like BetterHelp may limit specific barriers to in-person counseling, such as commuting or high-cost services. Your preferences can make it possible to choose a therapist who is also BIPOC. Once you match with a therapist, you can schedule sessions that align with your schedule and mental health goals.
More research is needed to assess the long-term contribution of online therapy to equitable mental healthcare, but current studies are promising. In a 2020 study of computerized cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), researchers sought to study the effectiveness of CBT for patients from racial and ethnic minority groups, given that CBT has been primarily studied with white patients. They found that the treatment significantly reduced depression and anxiety symptoms among African American patients, and they also noted that CBT could help reduce racial disparities in mental healthcare.
What does Juneteenth celebrate?
Many recognize Juneteenth as the second Independence Day (or “Freedom Day) of the United States, as the day commemorates the end of slavery and the end of the Civil War in the United States. Today, many members of the black community celebrate Juneteenth as a day of cultural pride. Many also use it to promote health equity for members of the African-American Community; choosing to reflect on and validate the mental health challenges that they may experience in their lives.
What is the theme for Juneteenth 2023?
Per the NAACP, the theme for Juneteenth across all years is “Black and Thriving.” Honoring the experience of the African American Community from the end of the Civil War to the present day, this theme encompasses the cultural pride that many have in their legacy—as well as the legacy that they hope to pass on to their future generations. To many, Freedom Day means freedom in every sense of the word—whether it’s within the scope of your personal Juneteenth mental health focus, or it’s celebrating all that Juneteenth represents historically.
Do you say happy Juneteenth?
Yes, many people will say “Happy Juneteenth” or “Happy ‘Teenth.” When you say this, you’re generally supporting the freedom that the day commemorates—and you validate and honor the possible stigma and experiences that members of the black community have had to face across generations, both before and after the Civil War.
Why should everyone celebrate Juneteenth?
Juneteenth represents the African American community’s complete and total freedom. While many believe it is the day that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, this isn’t necessarily true—however, President Abraham Lincoln’s progressive beliefs and signature of the document did have a role to play in the celebration.
Historians believe that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863—a day that would be a day of celebration for the black community across the United States. While this resulted in enslaved people becoming freed around the local areas, it took approximately two years for President Abraham Lincoln’s news to reach the Galveston, TX area.
On June 19th, 1865, the remaining members of the black community who were enslaved were declared free—which is a powerful memory that many choose to reflect on this Juneteenth.
What are the colors for Juneteenth?
There are many different colors that symbolize what Juneteenth represents. While many choose to celebrate with red, white and blue colors (celebrating the freedom that the black community was given on June 19th), many may feel it’s more appropriate to celebrate with the colors of the Pan-African flag. This flag rose to popularity among many African American community members in 1920 and beyond. These flag-associated colors are red, black and green.
What do the colors of Juneteenth mean?
Each Juneteenth, many choose to reflect on the colors of Juneteenth and their symbolic meaning. We’ve summarized possible symbolism of the colors below:
Red, White, and Blue Juneteenth Flag: This flag seeks to honor the true freedom that African American community members experienced on the first Juneteenth, directly impacting their physical and mental well-being. Many feel that Juneteenth represents the day that many enslaved people became recognized as true American citizens, considering it a secondary freedom day in its own right.
Red: Historically, this color represents the amount of unjustly shed blood that occurred leading up to America’s freedom and the freedom of enslaved members of this country. It can also represent passion and power, which many in the community may feel they align with as they seek to right further inequality. Examples of this can include disparities around mental health challenges, the promotion of black-owned businesses and the stigma that many may feel that they face.
Blue: This color generally represents bravery. We can see this plainly both on Juneteenth and year-round, as community members reflect on their legacy and how far they’ve come. Many also use blue to represent the specific bravery that comes with promoting mental health despite cultural and racial stigmas that may exist—impacting one’s overall well-being.
White: This color is thought to represent the innocence and purity of the blood that was shed and the gallantry that was shown on the inaugural Juneteenth and through the present day.
Pan-African Flag: Many community members use this flag to celebrate black liberation across the United States. It is designed to unify the Diaspora in all areas of existence that could affect one’s overall well-being. As this flag has risen in popularity, many members of the community have been spending time pouring back into their lives and the lives of others—promoting mental health and mental well-being on this complex holiday.
Red: Much like the American flag, this color represents the bloodshed that members of the Diaspora gave for their liberation. It signifies a shared bond among members of the community that many reflect on when Juneteenth comes.
Black: Black represents the rich diversity among the Diaspora as they unite under a single, shared identity. Many reference this color to break stigmas around physical and mental well-being that some may feel exist in the culture or in their specific communities.
Green: Finally, green is thought to represent growth, beauty and fertility of the African lands.
Who was the last state to free slaves?
Texas is historically considered to be the last state to free the slaves. As such, Juneteenth celebrates this final release—possibly indicating the start of true African American freedom in the United States.
What is closed on Juneteenth federal holiday?
Many non-essential federal entities choose to close to honor Juneteenth. These can include schools, post offices, banks and the stock market.
How do you honor Juneteenth?
Many choose to honor Juneteenth by reflecting on its historical legacy, and working to preserve equality where possible. This can include raising awareness about and promoting mental health disparities, socioeconomic needs that exist (either locally or on a broad scale) and other related focuses.
What are the symbols of Juneteenth?
There are three primary symbols that many associate with Juneteenth. These include the bursting star, a traditional five-point star, and an arc. You can see these on both the red, white and blue and the Pan-African versions of the Juneteenth flag.
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