Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender, or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness, regardless of their background. However, in many minority communities (i.e., people of color, women, LGBTQIA communities, physically disabled individuals, etc.), these problems are increased by less access to care, cultural stigma, financial support to afford treatment or medication, lower quality care, and mistrust for the medical and mental healthcare system, along with a deficit of Black psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists. Poor mental health care access and quality contribute to poor mental health outcomes, including suicide, among racial and ethnic minority populations. This makes it more difficult for individuals to believe in treatment, seek treatment, and benefit from treatment in the same ways as less marginalized populations.
National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 2008 to start changing this.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):
- Over 70% of Black/African American adolescents with a major depressive episode did not receive treatment for their condition.
- Almost 25% of adolescents with a major depressive episode in the last year were Hispanic/Latino.
- Asian American adults were less likely to use mental health services than any other racial/ethnic groups.
- In the past year, nearly 1 in 10 American Indian or Alaska Native young adults had serious thoughts of suicide.
- In the past year, 1 in 7 Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander adults had a diagnosable mental illness.
Attitudes and perceptions play a large role in minority communities, specifically in the Black community, when it comes to mental health. Often times, comments like, “I’ll just pray about it” or “I don’t want anyone in my business” are made, when addressing someone’s need for treatment. While I am not trying to minimize the importance or effectiveness of prayer, for those who believe in it, seeking professional help is also needed. Black women, who have 50% higher rates of depression than their Caucasian counterparts, often expect that they have to be “Superwoman”! There is a dangerous misconception that anything less than that is a sign of inadequacy or failure.
There is nothing weak about recognizing a mental health condition and asking for help. As a community, minorities are usually accepting of diabetes and hypertension as illnesses, but not the same regarding mental illnesses. However, just like one does not choose to have diabetes, one does not choose to have depression, anxiety, bipolar, or have experienced trauma. Mental health conditions are the result of a chemical imbalance, combined with life stressors, circumstances, and difficulty coping.
Although, non-minorities are more likely to seek mental health treatment, there has been continued increase of minorities seeking mental health treatment. Many minorities feel more comfortable seeking medical/mental health treatment from another minority. We’ve seen this with the success with directories, such as, www.therapyforblackgirls.com. Many minority therapists, are dedicated to lessening the disparities in mental health treatment in diverse communities. While there is still a huge disparity of medical/mental health professionals, it is slowly improving. While my private practice is very diverse with people of all races, ethnicities, cultures, and sexual identities, majority of my minority clients have chosen to seek treatment from me because I am a minority, being a person of color (specifically, black) and/or because I am a woman (of course, in addition to my experience, expertise, knowledge, and education).
So, what do we do about it? What can we do to take away the stigma of people, minorities in particular, who are struggling with their mental health and improve access of proper mental health treatment to minorities?
- Recognize that mental health conditions are real and rampant in minority communities.
- Support one another with no shame.
- Stop making comments, such as “He’s being bipolar”, when someone may be moody (which everyone can be moody from time to time).
- Ask for help. Seek a medical/mental professional that you can trust.