In 2008, the US House of Representatives declared July National Minority and Mental Health Month which allows for an opportunity to create mental health awareness in diverse communities. The goal of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is to improve the access that people have to mental health treatment and services via increased public awareness. Many of these resources can be found on the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) website.
Factors that Affect Mental Illness and Minorities
One major factor that can affect a person’s access to or willingness to seek out help for mental illness may be their culture. Cultural identity and belief patterns can seriously affect one’s willingness to seek treatment along with cultural and societal stigmas that may go along with admitting to having a mental illness and seeking help. This means a lot of people who need treatment or help with a mental health issue cannot or will not be able to get it. A lack of cultural understanding may also result in under-diagnosis or misdiagnosis of a mental health issue.
Additionally, race, ethnicity, language, literacy barriers, economic environment, miscommunication, misrepresentation of symptoms and mistrust of mental health treatment professionals may play a part as well.
The Facts about Mental Health and Minorities
According to the American Psychiatric Association around 25% of American men and women suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder but less than 1 in 3 adults with a diagnosable disorder will actually receive treatment for it. Additionally, mental illness makes up about 15% of the burden of disease in the US with the number of Americans under care for their mental problems nearly doubling between 1996 and 2006. These disorders may include Bipolar Disorder, Depression, PTSD, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorders, OCD and more.
People of color are less likely to receive needed services or proper quality of care for mental illness. A national study by M. Algeria on the prevalence of mental illness in immigrant and non-immigrant U.S. Latino Groups found that African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans were less likely to receive mental health treatment.
In a report by the U.S. Surgeon General it was said that members of ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. “face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism, discrimination, violence, and poverty, all of which take a toll on mental health.” Those in the lowest levels of income, education and occupation were two to three times more likely to have a mental disorder than those in the highest levels of income, education, and occupation.
In a survey taken in 2008 it was found that while 16% of whites received mental health treatment Native Americans received 13.2%, blacks received 8.7%, Hispanics received 6.8% and Asians received 4.5%. Even looking at surveys for 2008 on groups of people who received adequate treatment for depression you can see that it was received by 33% of whites but only 22% of Latinos, 13% of Asians and 12% of African Americans.
Insurance is another factor in why certain races and ethnicities may not receive needed or proper care for their mental health issues. While only 11% of whites are not insured, instead 16% of Asians, 20% of African Americans, and 33% of both Native Americans and Latinos are not insured. Often, a lack of insurance or being underinsured through Medicaid or other safety net insurance policies will lead to a person going without the necessary treatment for their mental health issues.
Methods to increase access to mental health services
The American Psychiatric Association does have several recommendations on how people can continue to raise awareness and availability to mental health opportunities. One strategy is to reduce the stigmas attached to having mental health issues. While this is not something that can be done overnight it is something that society should work towards. Increasing the awareness of the stigmas attached to mental health problems among gatekeepers like primary care physicians, community organizations and faith based community organizations like churches. Another way is to educate providers about the mental health issues and the struggles minority groups face when dealing with these issues. It is important to also increase awareness of the connection between mental health and chronic disease and also increase the presence of diverse populations in research so as to create a better understanding. An increased diversity in the mental health workforce and an advocacy for policies that promote social justice, equity, and equality are also helpful. Probably the most important thing would be to have comprehensive and affordable health care coverage for all which includes coverage of mental health disorders.