Did you know that July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness month? If you didn’t, now you do! You also might not know about the troubling statistics that surround minorities and mental health. For example:
- According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), American Indians and Alaska natives have the highest rate of mental health conditions among communities at 28%, and report the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- A recent report from Pew Research showed that 32% of Asian people fear they will be physically attacked because of who they are due to recent increased violence and discrimination against people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage.
- According to the American Psychiatric Association, people who identify as being two or more races (24.9% of the U.S. population) were more likely to report mental illness within the past year compared to any other group.
Mental Health Challenges for Minorities
Why do minorities face such unique challenges in mental health? There are several factors that can contribute. For one thing, minorities may have limited access to mental health services due to cost barriers and/or lack of insurance coverage. Furthermore, minorities may prefer to seek mental health professionals that share their racial or ethnic group, and those providers may be hard to find. As always, stigma surrounding mental health issues can also be at play.
The U.S. healthcare system presents its own set of problems. According to the American Psychiatric Association, healthcare providers may not always have a cultural understanding of minority patients, and this may contribute to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis. Language barriers can also contribute to this lack of understanding.
So even if minorities experienced mental health challenges at the same rate as non-minority groups, access to help effective treatment are remaining challenges and put minorities at a disadvantage compared to others. But minorities don’t experience the same rates of mental illness. Environment, socioeconomic status, demographics, and unique stressors all contribute to higher rates of mental illness. For example, Black and Latinx people report higher levels of financial and work-related concerns. Dealing with discrimination, prejudice, and microaggressions can be incredibly stressful and provide extra mental and emotional burden or “racial battle fatigue.” And the COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges. According to an article from Psychiatric Services, “The complex interactions between the [COVID-19] pandemic, structural racism and mental health inequities have led to devastating health, economic and social consequences.” When we consider the fact that minorities experience more mental health challenges, paired with fewer available resources, it’s evident that we need more support and awareness for minority mental health.
Ways to Help
How can society address and support minorities’ mental health needs? We can all educate ourselves and be more attentive to minority mental health. We can also try to understand and support the people around us while dedicating resources to closing gaps in mental health care availability. People can spread the word about mental health disparities to create broader awareness for minority mental health. Small steps like speaking with families, colleagues, friends, and peer groups can help generate widespread awareness.
If you’re a healthcare provider, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Office of Minority Health (OMH) has a wealth of resources to help you support minority patients.
Finally, if you’re a minority seeking help, you can talk to your doctor, connect with family members, seek a referral to a mental health therapist, work with a mental health professional to integrate culture into your treatment plan, and seek others with similar backgrounds and challenges to connect with and learn from. In fact, a recent article from the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighted the value and benefits of group support for refugees.
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