Juneteenth: Supporting Mental Health Equity Everyday

By BetterHelp Editorial Team|Updated August 1, 2022

What Is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, celebrated on June 19, honors the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States in the month of June. The holiday's history began in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. In that year, the Civil War Union General Gordon Granger, arrived with Union troops to free the people living in slavery in the Texas town, two years after the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, enacted by Abraham Lincoln, declared that all slaves, or enslaved peoples, inside and outside Union lines be freed. The International Day For the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is another holiday that honors African American history that commemorates the African Americans who were killed and injured during open fire from police at a peaceful demonstration in 1960. 

Though many have recognized Juneteenth in Texas and around the country since 1866, it was not officially declared a holiday on the federal calendar until June 17th, 2021. This year, the holiday falls on June 20th, which is a Monday in June. Its long path to one of the national dates of celebration in June that has been fraught with advocacy against the holiday's ignorance and is still a hot topic, outside of Texas, even today. 

A Brief History

Before we dive into Juneteenth, let's revisit the end of slavery in Texas, the state where June 19 and its subsequent recognition began. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Lincoln in 1863 during the Civil War, however, it did not immediately free all enslaved people; in fact, the Emancipation Proclamation only applied to enslaved people that were residing in states under confederate control. Once the war was over, however, both states within Union lines and the former confederacy were required to allow former enslaved people their freedom. In the state of Texas specifically, slavery remained legal until the arrival of General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. 

General Granger arrived with Union troops from their military posts to read the General Orders #3 to the people living in slavery in Galveston, Texas. The order, issued by the White House, proclaimed: "The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free." 

Thus, the formerly enslaved people of Texas celebrated the end of slavery in their state. The people of Texas were released from their former masters, transitioned from slaves to hired labor, and officially became freed people with personal rights due to this proclamation. The next year, 1866, became the first year that formerly enslaved people celebrated the end of slavery with "Jubilee Day", which occurred on June 20 in Texas. As the years went on, Texas became the first state to make June 19 an official state holiday celebrating Juneteenth as the end of slavery for African Americans.

Last year, over one-hundred-fifty-years after the original Juneteenth celebrations, President Biden, the current Executive of the United States, declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, extending its reach beyond Texas. Now, even former confederate states in this country are required to recognize this new annual tradition. The official holiday will be celebrated annually across the nation, just like Memorial Day, in honor of the freedom that African Americans experienced after the Emancipation Proclamation, making Juneteenth a June holiday for the American, not just Texas, history books. 

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Alternative Names For This Holiday

Also known as Emancipation Day, Black Independence Day, and Freedom Day, Juneteenth is now more widely celebrated across the country as the official day ending slavery since its recognition as one of the federal holidays in 2021. Communities can hold a Juneteenth parade, concerts with live music, social gatherings, and other Juneteenth events in honor of the national holiday. Juneteenth celebrations in June are for recognizing this new national holiday, as well as celebrating African American culture, African American freedom, and the historical significance of Juneteenth day in June.

Recognizing And Observing Juneteenth Appropriately

Honoring Juneteenth, aka the Texas organized Emancipation Day, as a state holiday in June is more important now than ever. Juneteenth is not simply a time where we recognize slavery in the United States, but also a time where we identify the connection heretofore existing between the history of slavery in the United States and modern racial injustice. Juneteenth, in June, is not a day to remain quietly passive, but is instead a time to remember the history of African American enslaved people. Especially in regards to other mental health holidays, like National Minority Mental Health month & disparities that minorities experience.

Many of us have forgotten to advocate for racial equality in the wake of the 2020 protests and unrest against historical and current racial injustice. Two years have passed since our nation focused on these issues through television networks' broadcasts, and much of the conversation and executive action has died down outside the month of June. As non-Black individuals, this year's Juneteenth can be when we choose to continue our work for racial justice and rights, two essential factors in the ongoing fight for freedom, beyond the month of June.

Juneteenth Independence Day is the first new federal holiday created under the President Biden administration, with help from former Texas State Representative, Al Edwards. Thus, early celebrations and traditions have not been established quite yet. This means that there are many ways you can recognize the new federal holiday this year. For example, Fort Worth, Texas organized the "I am Juneteenth" Festival for this upcoming June Sunday to recognize the struggles that formerly enslaved people experienced. These festivals can be learning opportunities to focus on African American history and African American studies, while also bringing recognition to current civil rights violations that African Americans are still experiencing. 

Juneteenth commemorates African American history and the end of slavery in the United States, while also bringing current attention to issues of modern racial injustice and reminding us of all the work that still needs to be done to reach absolute equality for African Americans. 

In that regard, equity becomes an essential idea to uphold. Promoting equity on Juneteenth is just one way to celebrate it intentionally and with thoughtful action. This article will explore how mental health equity is vital, how we can each support it, and list the systems that need to be in place.

What Is Equity?

Equity has become an important term in other conversations about discrimination, mental health, etc. Historically, these conversations have centered on the word "equality", which is a far progression from Abraham Lincoln's time. Still, as we've grown to understand the significant difference between equity and equality, more and more resources have focused on why equity should be the objective rather than just equality. Let's break down why this is important, especially in the context of the upcoming Juneteenth holiday and the month of June.

What Is The Difference Between Equality Vs. Equity?

During Juneteenth and the month of June, we should recognize that equality is the idea that everyone gets the same resources and opportunities, regardless of their background or current circumstances. In theory, equality seems to make sense - everyone gets the same thing, so everyone is safe and content. But in practice, equality only strengthens the disparity between individuals, greatening the gaps between safety, comfort, and opportunity for each group. Instead, equity refers to the idea that communities and individuals of different cultural identities need diverse resources by design to ensure an equal result. It doesn't mean giving something to someone simply because they are from a particular ethnic background; it means giving everyone equal opportunity. For example, hiring someone simply because they are African American rather than based purely on experience and how suitable someone is for the job poses the same issues as hiring someone simply because they are white. Our access to resources, education, material items, and career opportunities should never be based on color, ethnicity, age, sex, etc. This is the ethos behind the holiday of Juneteenth that is upcoming in the month of June.

Why Does Mental Health Equity Matter For Juneteenth?

In mental health, the difference between equity and equality is equally valuable and apparent in many cases beyond the month of June. Access to mental health for individuals and communities that have been historically discriminated against is extremely limited.

Juneteenth can be about bringing awareness to mental health equity for those that have been historically discriminated against.

Equity becomes an essential term for mental health when considering Juneteenth and its historical background. Black Americans experience discrimination and bias that are studied to impact mental health and prevent access to treatment options negatively.

Juneteenth is about raising awareness of this issue and deflating the stigma.

Common Racial Discrimination Situations In Healthcare

Racial discrimination has a well-researched effect on mental health. Studies have shown that in both long-term and single-event instances, racial discrimination can impact the mental health of the person experiencing the discrimination. Black Americans are at greater risk of developing certain mental health conditions.

In addition to a heightened risk of impacted mental health, Black Americans also report experiencing discrimination within the mental health field, from lack of access to clinicians that share a background to outright discrimination during mental health care.

There are countless examples of racism in mental health services. Care providers are much more likely to diagnose Black American clients with schizophrenia than with mood disorders that can present the same symptoms. Similarly, Black children are over-diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) compared to their white peers, leading to poor educational and long-term outcomes.

This level of misdiagnosis and disparity between white and Black Americans extends to all aspects of healthcare. Research has shown time and time again the discrimination that Black folks face in healthcare, creating situations in which clinicians underdiagnose illnesses, claims of pain are ignored, and Black Americans have higher rates of death. One study found that physicians were "twice as likely to underestimate pain in Black patients compared to all other ethnicities combined."

What Does Mental Health Equity Look Like?

Overall, mental health equity extends to access to care, support, and other services based on the individual's needs. Equitable mental health treatment is treatment from which anyone can access and benefit, regardless of their background or experiences. It's also mental health care that acknowledges and works with the experiences of each individual, including discrimination relating to race. This is one aspect of the Juneteenth holiday. 

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Equitable mental health professionals are aware of their privilege, can manage the experiences of different individuals, and are trained in a variety of circumstances. Equitable mental health care also supports opportunities and services with professionals that share the specific background of the client, something to encourage awareness of on Juneteenth.
 
With that said, online therapy offers a more accessible option for some people. If you are interested in therapy, but experience barriers to seeking treatment, such as distance from offices or lack of insurance, online therapy is an effective treatment option. Learn more about how virtual counseling can work for you and sign up with BetterHelp to speak to a licensed mental health professional. Juneteenth is a time to recognize the discriminatory practices within the healthcare system and to raise awareness for mental health equity on Juneteenth.

What Do We Need To Create Mental Health Equity In The U.S.?

We can only support mental health equity through structural changes. With improvements to access to care, options that offer a multicultural approach, and programs and services that consider the historical background of the United States, we can work towards mental health equity.
 
Some barriers preventing equitable access to mental health care include proximity to services, inaccessibility related to insurance and economic status, stigma, and discrimination within the field. Each of these obstacles must be addressed through systemic changes to meet the goal of wider-reaching mental health equity.
 
Structural changes that can help support mental health equity include promoting culturally responsive care, integrating mental health care into primary care, increasing funding for the education of mental health professionals, and offering financially accessible options. One particularly successful change is building programs within communities that foster positive understandings of mental health, offer culturally sensitive services, and generate community support. Overall, ensuring that policies and systems are developed using research on the most beneficial resources is essential to creating structural supports that work for these issues.

How You Can Support Mental Health Equity On Juneteenth And All Year Long

Supporting mental health equity lasts longer than the holiday celebrations of Juneteenth, but that doesn't mean you can't use Juneteenth to start your work. As an individual, it may seem like there is little you can do to support mental health equity when we need extensive systemic changes, but your daily choices can still make an impact.

Advocacy plays a huge role in catalyzing systemic change. Advocate as an individual or gather your friends, family, and community to encourage local and national representatives and organizations to allocate funding to mental health equity and develop programs with these goals in mind.

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Recognizing Your Privilege

Learn about your privilege to better understand the need for mental health equity this Juneteenth. Exploring resources about what it means to have white privilege, especially in the lens of mental health, can help you decide what you can do to support equity in your community and nationwide, even after the month of June is over.

If you are an employer or business owner, ensure your employees' access to insurance, fair wages, and appropriate mental health resources this Juneteenth. Until we develop systems to protect everyone in our communities, mental health care is tied to insurance and financial resources. Protecting those close to you is your responsibility as a leader to be in accordance with the law.

Celebrate Juneteenth like you would any other federal holiday this June 19 and June 20. Here are a couple of examples for how you can celebrate during the month of June:

  • spending time with others at family gatherings during June
  • cooking celebratory food in your kitchen, inspired by African American communities & cooking
  • brainstorming ways and ideas to help promote equity this June
  • attending a Juneteenth festival on June 19
  • flying your American or Texas flag at half mast
  • educating yourself by reading news and information on racial injustice, historical events like the Civil War, slavery, and Emancipation Proclamation, and legislation changes during the month of June
  • coming up with a new tradition or annual celebration that honors those lost to discriminatory violence
  • and more!
Donate to Juneteenth organizations during the month of June that provide these resources and an informational item, like the Willa Washington Park Foundation, Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective, Equity in Mental Health Framework, National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, and Black Mental Health Alliance. There are hundreds of agencies, not just in Texas, dedicated to developing mental health equity in schools and communities, and all need financial donations and resources.
 
It's important to remember and understand the history behind June 19. It is not simply a day we get to take off work and hang out in our present homes while watching the television networks. We must reflect on the slave past of our country, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the how impact of slavery in the United States continues to affect our society. Juneteenth commemorates the suffering of enslaved people that happened almost one-hundred-and-fifty half years earlier. 
 
Find a way to promote mental health equity this Juneteenth National Independence Day that you can extend past this June 19 holiday. Your advocacy, support, self improvement and eduction, and action are integral to changing how everyone in your community experiences mental health care, especially during Juneteenth and the month of June. Each of our responsibilities uses our voices, time, and resources to work towards this universal goal in celebration of Juneteenth and everything Juneteenth marks on this jubilee day.
 
In the words of scholar William H. Wiggins Jr, June 19 and the month of June has "taken on a life of its own."

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