Improving Minority Access to Mental Health Care
This month of July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month, during which we recognize that people of color and other groups (including Veterans) experience life differently than the rest of us. Their wellness is marginalized, and the result is that minorities carry a mental health burden that is heavier than what non-minorities face.
Although the need is clearly there, only 43% of individuals with a mental illness receive mental health care or counseling. Therefore, to increase care in the US, it is important to focus on those populations (or minorities) who don’t receive adequate mental health services.
How Mental Health Conditions Affect Various People
One challenge providers face is the diversifying population of the U.S. Projections show that by 2044, more than half of all Americans will be members of a minority group (or any group other than non-Hispanic Whites).
Minority groups frequently endure a disproportionately high burden of mental illness-related disabilities. Although the prevalence of depression is lower among African-Americans (24.6%) and Hispanics (19.6%) than it is for Caucasians (34.7%), the condition is likely to last longer in these groups. This speaks to the lack of treatment available to minorities.
A Lack of Communication and Access
Members of many ethnic, social, or racial groups may experience barriers to treatment due to:
- A lack of insurance coverage
- A lack of culturally knowledgeable healthcare providers
- The lack of a safety net for providing adequate mental health services
Language barriers between patients and healthcare professionals, the stigma associated with mental illness among minority groups, and variances in how symptoms are perceived culturally are all factors that might lead to a misdiagnosis or lack of care.
One Example: The Disparity in Latino Mental Health Support
Only 34% of Latinos with a mental illness receive treatment each year (the U.S. average is 43%). So, what prevents Latinos from seeking treatment? Several factors. For instance, talking about negative feelings is not common in most Latino cultures. Furthermore, discussing personal or family matters with outsiders is often discouraged:
- Only 20% talk to a doctor about their symptoms
- Only 10% contact a mental health professional
- 20% had no form of health insurance (according to a 2019 report)
Distinct gender roles for men and women are also a strong component of Latino culture. Men are expected to be strong and resilient providers. Women are expected to take care of the family before anything else (even themselves).
Addressing Mental Health Disparities
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) encourages researchers to investigate the root causes of imbalances in mental health as well as find ways to test new strategies to close such gaps.
It’s essential for mental health providers to evaluate their patients’ cultural perspectives, attitudes, and stigmas about mental health. Promoting the availability of addiction services and hiring a qualified, culturally understanding staff can reduce inequities in mental health.
Healthcare provider should check their own biases as well. One might start by taking a free 5-minute latent association exam that is featured at https://implicit.harvard.edu.
Building an Alliance in the Mental Health Field
To develop focused, efficient interventions, collaborations are needed among government agencies, medical professionals, educators, and community leaders. Such initiatives can be helpful in removing the stigmas associated with mental illness or for expanding insurance coverage options.
Some of the variables that lead to a discrepancy can be lessened by encouraging community involvement, forming partnerships with nearby underserved areas, and enhancing access to care to meet people’s varying mental health needs in different cultural contexts.
De-Stigmatization and Encouraging People to Get Help is Priority #1
It’s not shameful to have a mental health challenge. Denial only delays the healing. Let’s continue to advocate, utilize help available, and fight for more resources within all communities.
Do you know someone who needs help? You can start by contacting The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Also, of course, for those who are contemplating self-harm, the Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by dialing (or texting) 988.
About the Author
Scott H. Silverman was addicted to alcohol and drugs when he “hit bottom,” and said the magic words “I need help” in 1984. He’s been helping others recover from addiction ever since. In 2014, he founded Confidential Recovery, a drug treatment program in San Diego that specializes in helping Veterans, first responders, and executives overcome substance abuse. You can reach them at (619) 452-1200, or by visiting the Confidential Recovery website.