Updates and Announcements

Ghosts and Angels: A Reflection on Infant Mental Health during BIPOC Mental Health Month.

By Kierra Gray

I’ve been a clinical intern at the Development Centers Inc. for approximately seven months. As a Black woman clinician, it’s necessary to bring light to infant mental health (IMH) in honor of BIPOC Mental Health Month. BIPOC stands for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Originally called Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, BIPOC Mental Health Month has been observed each July since 2008. Bebe Moore Campbell was an author, journalist, and teacher who died November 27, 2006. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), in 2005, Campbell’s longtime friend Linda Wharton-Boyd proposed dedicating a month to her efforts to end stigma and provide mental health resources. They encouraged residents to get mental health checkups with support of past mayor Anthony Williams and D.C. Department of Mental Health. Campbell and Wharton-Boyd formed a National Minority Mental Health Taskforce of friends and allies, but efforts paused when Campbell fell too ill then lost her battle to cancer. Wharton-Boyd and others reignited the cause obtaining support from “Representatives Albert Wynn [D-MD] and Diane Watson [D-CA], who co-signed legislation to create an official minority mental health awareness month.” This observation brought awareness to unprecedented mental health struggles underrepresented groups face. The recent change to the use of BIPOC created inclusive language. It’s believed the continued use of using the words “marginalized” and “minority” creates inferiority with the majority (White people) maintaining the power struggle.

IMH is a preventive sector of social work practice that focuses on the specific needs of young children. It’s no surprise that race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status influence adverse mental health outcomes and create barriers to obtaining mental health care. Selma Fraiberg, the mother of infant mental health, was a clinical social worker who conceptualized its practice to strengthen secure attachment relationships. “Parenting stress is an important construct for infant and child well-being. High levels of parenting stress are linked to compromised parent-child interactions and child development. Parents who report high levels of parenting stress are more likely to exhibit harsh discipline and less parental responsivity and warmth” (Klawetter & Frankel, 2020, p. 559). It’s important to know that IMH can help prevent the passing of intergenerational trauma to the next generation.

It’s essential to keep a social justice framework at the forefront, especially while interning in a predominantly Black city, Detroit. It’s important to have BIPOC people working in IMH because it’s life or death to acknowledge social inequality, inequity, and the privileges White clients and clinicians have over BIPOC. White clients tend to have more access to resources, and White clinicians may have a harder time connecting with BIPOC. As clinicians, we must recognize the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and religion. I acknowledge my class and educational privilege going into oppressed communities, doing my best not to inflict my bias on the client population. We don’t know what the clients experience at the hands of the people in their lives. As IMH clinicians, we need to offer a haven.

If you’re not BIPOC, it’s especially important to have self-awareness. All clinicians, whether you’re BIPOC or not, need to continually reflect on how we interact with clients. In my IMH theory class with leading IMH clinician Julie Ribaudo, she said, “The more we know about our ghosts, the better we can recognize them in others, and we need to find and cultivate our angels.” BIPOC Mental Health Month brings light to the services that underrepresented communities need to support healthy futures. It’s essential to be aware of the ghosts and the angels in familial relationships. The ghosts are our past trauma, and the angels are positive figures who offer security and a sense of self-worth. IMH services address the ghosts of the ancestral past. This niche makes space for the past angels and the creation of future angels. As BIPOC clinicians and our allies, every July we are reminded that we need to advocate for those in need by providing representation in the field.

If you’re interested in meeting with a BIPOC therapist, you can request one at the Development Centers Inc.