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July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and each year millions of Americans live with one or more mental health conditions. From issues of health coverage and stigma, to living with the disease itself, mental health problems would be challenging for anyone. However for minorities who may have less access to care and who face more cultural stigma, mental health issues are even more daunting. In honor of this month, ACCESS takes an inside look at mental health disparities that minorities face.
What are mental health disparities?
Mental health disparities are defined as “unfair differences in access to or quality of mental health care according to race and ethnicity.” Disparities can take on many forms and are quite common. They can mean unequal access to good providers, differences in insurance coverage or discrimination by doctors or nurses.
Some basic statistics
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five adults in the United States – 18.5 percent – experiences mental illness in any given year. Although minorities have the same or fewer mental health diagnoses than whites, their problems tend to persist longer. Although only 41 percent of people with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans used mental health services much less, at about half the rate of white Americans. Rates for Asian-Americans were even lower at about one-third the rate of white Americans. Obviously, the low number of people receiving care for their mental health problems is worrisome and can have dire consequences. Adults with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to untreated medical conditions.
What evidence is there of disparities?
The evidence that supports these mental health care disparities is striking. Studies have found minorities have less access to mental health services than whites, are less likely to receive care and are more likely to receive poor quality care when treated. Minorities are more likely to delay or fail to seek mental health treatment, and after entering care, minority patients are less likely to receive the best available treatments.
What can we do to fix this disparity?
To offer minorities the same access to quality mental health care as whites, our health care system should work to improve minorities’ access to care; increase the number of culturally-specific minority health care providers; use routine screening for depression and teach patients about mental illness, reduce the stigma related to asking for mental health support and actively engage patients in early interventions.
ACCESS’ team of health care providers and behavioral health consultants actively engage patients to assess their mental health needs, because we believe that mental health is closely tied to physical health.
In our communities, it’s also important that we talk about mental illness in order to decrease the stigma surrounding it. Start a conversation about mental health with your friends and family, reminding people that they aren’t suffering alone. Look for warning signs of mental illness in your friends and family and reach out for help if needed. The National Alliance on Mental Health has a wealth of resources that is available here. If you or someone you know would like to see a professional health care provider, set up an appointment with ACCESS today.