Mental health conditions do not discriminate – anyone can experience the struggles of mental illness, regardless of background or culture. July marked Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, but everyday is a time to draw attention to the challenges faced by marginalized communities regarding mental health stigma and treatment. With the goal of making mental health treatment more inclusive for all, Minority Mental Health Awareness invited us to create a space for conversation, build awareness surrounding the unique struggles faced by underrepresented groups in the United States in the mental health sphere and commemorate the diversity of mental health experiences across communities.
As defined by Mental Health America, the term “minority” encompasses racial, ethnic and cultural minorities within the US along with any underserved communities, including those who identify along the LGBTQ+ spectrum, refugee and immigrant groups, religious groups, and many others. Despite advances in recent years, the unfortunate reality is that disparities in mental health care and perception still persist for minority groups. Racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to have access to mental health services, making them more likely to go without care or receive lower quality care. These factors contribute to increased risk for poor mental health outcomes among minority populations without proper treatment.
Staggering numbers corroborate these facts. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nearly 42% of youths ages 12-17 received care for a major depressive episode, while only 35% of black youth and 33% of Hispanic youth received treatment. African Americans are 10% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites according to the Center for Disease Control, and Asian American adults were found significantly less likely to use mental health services than any other ethnic group. Additionally, poverty level affects mental health status, with Hispanics below the poverty level found to be twice as likely to report psychological distress and Hispanic girls (grades 9-12) reporting suicide attempts at 50% higher than Caucasian girls in the same age group as of 2015.
In light of these sobering statistics, many are making efforts to close the treatment gap experienced by minority groups. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health recently launched a free, accredited e-learning program in honor of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, aimed at educating mental health treatment providers in improving cultural competency in service administration. Additionally, mental health advocates such as Jasmin Pierre have made great strides in providing services to minority communities with products such as The Safe Place app. An author and suicide survivor, Pierre has spread awareness for mental health in the black community with the development of her app, The Safe Place, to create a space for the discussion of depression and mental health conditions in the African American population along with devaluing the stigmatization of mental health within her community.
The fact remains that while there are considerable avenues for mental health treatment for children and adults, there is much less evidence of interventions for ethnic minority youth. The Stanford Social Innovation Review on “The Crisis of Youth Mental Health” found that in addition to the cultural factors that influence existing minority mental health interventions, approximately 90 percent of mental health professionals in the U.S. are non-Hispanic whites compared to a 30 percent population of people belonging to a racial or ethnic minority. The shortage of ethnic minority clinicians is part of a larger problem, dually influencing the disparity in care for minority communities.
Ultimately, there are several factors affecting access to treatment by members of diverse racial groups including a lack of insurance, a cultural mental illness stigma, a lack of diversity among mental health care providers, a lack of culturally competent providers, language barriers, distrust in the health care system and more. Minority Mental Health Awareness Month brought about the opportunity to draw attention to these unique struggles faced by minority populations in the struggle against mental illness. For every day ahead, be aware of the disparity faced by minority groups in the search for proper mental health treatment and do your part in supporting their efforts, educating yourself about the issue and encouraging the diversity of treatment for all communities.