Juneteenth: Supporting Mental Health Equity Every Day

Medically reviewed by Andrea Brant, LMHC
Updated May 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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 key to safeguarding yourself and your community.

Getty/Luis Alvarez

What is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth, officially known as Juneteenth National Independence Day and sometimes Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, 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. 

Although President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, many people remain enslaved in places still under Confederate control, including Galveston, Texas. It wasn’t until the end of the Civil War in 1865 that all slaves were freed. However, due to the slow spread of news and the remote locations of some enslaved people, not everyone was immediately freed or aware of Black liberation until later. 

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 as a federal holiday 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 of the day’s historical legacy and meaning. 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 and celebrate cultural pride. 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 challenges non-white individuals to consume and celebrate thoughtfully and to remember the long history of slavery and oppression in the United States. These efforts can be made year-round. You may also try reading books or watching educational channels by Black influencers to learn more about Black history.
Getty/MoMo Productions

Juneteenth: A reminder of mental health equity

Juneteenth is an opportunity to point out and condemn modern examples of racial inequity in mental healthcare, such as mental health disparities within the African American community. These injustices persist in the US and abroad, potentially affecting the overall well-being of the community and future generations. 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 the African American community and other racial or ethnic minority groups. For many members of the Black community, Juneteenth represents more than a federal holiday; it's a day when mental health challenges can be discussed with a goal of promoting mental health equity. For lasting change, it’s key to have these discussions 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 support for mental health challenges. 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, especially within the Black community, can prevent people from getting quality mental healthcare. Therefore, there’s a growing need for support for Black mental health and promoting mental health in other racial or ethnic groups. 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. 

Getty/Luis Alvarez

Statistics on racism and mental health

In mental health settings, recognizing cultural nuances is often complicated by racism and systemic oppression. 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.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7.

Research demonstrates the impacts of racial discrimination on healthcare and long-term well-being. Although Juneteenth marks only one day of the year, it's an enduring reminder that racial equity is a historical and modern-day issue impacting all dimensions of human life. 

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 promote positive conversations about mental well-being, offer culturally sensitive services, and tap into existing community support networks. For example, many programs work with Black-owned businesses to bring awareness to mental health, particularly for African American community members. 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, supporting the mental health and emotional well-being 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. 

Counseling options 

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.


Juneteenth is a day of celebration, community, and reflection. This day is also a reminder of the healthcare system's discriminatory practices and the possibility of mental health equity for all people. In June, it can be valuable to take an opportunity to pause and notice the systems of privilege and oppression around you. With time and self-education, you may begin dismantling these systems by committing to your mental health, investing in your communities, and choosing to celebrate and uplift yourself and others.
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