Minority mental health matters
“July was first declared as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2008. Since then, July has been a time to acknowledge and explore issues concerning mental health, substance use disorders, and minority communities, and to destigmatize mental illness and enhance public awareness of mental illness among affected minority groups across the U.S. Studies suggest that racial minority groups and sexual minority groups show higher levels of anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders. Unfortunately, in most of the cases, society’s deep-rooted prejudice towards such stigmatized minority groups is a major cause of feelings of rejection, estrangement, and harassment. Moreover, immigration status, economic conditions, education levels, and access to public health benefits are just a few differences that can adversely impact the experiences of various ethnic groups in the U.S.”
This year has been one of the most challenging years thus far, especially for people of color. We are only halfway through 2020. It has the potential to be especially traumatic for those in minority communities, with racial inequities at the forefront in our nation, coupled with a pandemic that disproportionally affects people of color. Although we as humans may discriminate against others based on the color of their skin, mental health disorders do not discriminate against race. Anyone can experience the challenges associated with mental health disorders, regardless of their background or identity; however, background and identity are important factors when it comes time to accessing mental health treatment and care. Minorities are faced with less access to care, cultural stigma, and lower quality of care when it comes to addiction and mental health.
If resources are not sufficient for the general population, how do underserved groups address their psychiatric needs?
More than half of uninsured U.S. residents are people of color, and unfortunately, individuals with limited resources also experience logistical barriers to mental healthcare. These individuals may struggle to take time off work, find reliable transportation to appointments, and secure affordable childcare. Linguistic and cultural communications can result in a breakdown in communication and make many minority groups less likely to seek mental health treatment. Minority groups who do choose to seek treatment and who have the means to access mental health and addiction resources often receive inferior care because of the lack of diversity among mental health providers and decreased understanding of the different needs across minority groups. When a Caucasian individual meets with a Caucasian provider, it is easier to relate since ethnic backgrounds and language barriers are not at the forefront of the visit. But when a person of color meets with a Caucasian provider, the client can often feel inadequate and unable to relate. One of the core key components to successful mental health and addiction treatment is the relationship between the provider and the client.
Numbers don’t lie
A new study published in the International Journal of Health Services only further corroborates this fact. Researchers found that black and Hispanic young people were less able to get mental health services than white children and young adults. This happens even though rates of mental illness are generally consistent across all ethnicities, Kaiser Health News reported.
- African American adults are 20% more likely to experience mental health issues than the rest of the population
- Native Americans have the highest rate of young adult suicide of any ethnicity.
- 60% percent of non-Hispanic black individuals with depression had a major depressive episode in 2012.
- 25% of African Americans seek treatment for a mental health issue, compared to 40 percent of white individuals. The reasons for this drop off include misdiagnosis by doctors, socioeconomic factors, and a lack of African American mental health professionals.
Understanding the reasons behind limited access to mental health
There are many reasons why minorities aren’t getting proper care. Here are some of them:
- A lack of availability
- Transportation issues, difficulty finding childcare/taking time off work
- The belief that mental health treatment “doesn’t work”
- The high level of mental health stigma in minority populations
- A mental health system weighted heavily towards non-minority values and cultural norms
- Racism, bias, and discrimination in treatment settings
- Language barriers and an insufficient number of providers who speak languages other than English
- A lack of adequate health insurance coverage (and even for people with insurance, high deductibles, and co-pays make it difficult to afford)
Making an impact for change
The mental healthcare system is flawed. We all know that, and many of us have experienced it personally. But all mental health advocates should band together in improving the status quo for those who are most vulnerable to the systemic disparities of getting help. Together, we need to raise the bar for better mental health care for everyone, especially minorities. You can get started by doing the following:
Encourage mental health organizations to include minorities on staff or boards of directors.
- Write, call, or talk to legislators—both local and federal—to support efforts to improve access to and the quality of mental health services in your area.
- Be a spokesperson when there is an opportunity to speak out on behalf of minority mental health.
- Share the information you’ve learned about accessing quality care to others.
- Try to be more open and understanding of what minority communities might be experiencing that you might not.
Whether you have personally experienced the challenges associated with minority mental health or advocating for a better mental health system, anyone can help make a difference. Opening the doors to quality mental health care for minorities is challenging, but we can all do our part in making the right keys for easier access and quality care.
“Our philosophy at Quest 2 Recovery is simple: heal the mind, body, and spirit in a family-like environment. We believe in a holistic approach to treatment, one that caters to each individual’s distinct needs. As a trauma-based treatment program, we believe in resolving the underlying issues that brought the onset of substance use. Our team of clinicians helps each client identify the faulty belief systems stemming from childhood, then psych-educate clients on the symptoms of PTSD to understand and alleviate the power of certain triggers”.