Individuals of racial and ethnic minority groups (as well as those from other marginalized groups such as the LGBTQ community) are often less likely to receive adequate mental health treatment. For example, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that among all adults with any mental illness, only 31% of Blacks and Hispanics and 22% of Asians received mental health care compared to 48% of Whites. Yet, research suggests that mental health conditions are
- more than twice as likely among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals than heterosexuals.
- nearly four times more likely among transgender individuals than cisgender individuals.
- 20% more likely among Black adults.
Factors that account for the disparities in mental health care include:
- Lack of health insurance (or underinsurance) to adequately pay for services
- Stigma, which is often even greater among minorities
- Less diversity among providers with whom patients can identify and trust
- Scarcity of culturally competent providers (contributing to under- or misdiagnosis)
- Language differences that cause communication barriers
- Distrust in the health care system due to historical discrimination/maltreatment
Fortunately, there are a number of actions that can be taken on both an individual and organizational level to help overcome these obstacles to receiving quality mental health treatment.
As an individual, you can:
- Encourage openness about mental health issues (sharing your own struggles can open the door for friends and family to talk about theirs).
- Become an advocate by speaking up (locally and federally) about equal access to care.
- Educate yourself with these resources from the Office of Minority Health.
On an organizational level, facilities should strive to provide quality, culturally responsive mental health care by:
- Following the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Tailoring treatment to address clients’ cultural beliefs and language preferences
- Maintaining a diverse professional staff
- Offering easy-to-understand promotional materials/signage in the language/s common to the geographic area
- Promoting access to language assistance via translators
There’s still much to be done to address disparities in mental health treatment, but every effort counts.