Bebe Moore Campbell, a mental health advocate, spent her life working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. In honor of her efforts, Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was formally announced in May 2008. This was done to raise public awareness of mental illness among minorities. Efforts to increase awareness would also lead to improved access to mental health treatment. These goals are not ones that have been met yet, but progress has been made.
Minorities have different experiences with mental health. Research shows that minorities are more likely to suffer from more severe psychological symptoms. For example, Hispanics and Blacks are more likely to have persistent depressive symptoms. There are also certain mental illnesses more common amongst minority groups. American Indians/Alaskan Natives report higher rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and alcohol dependence than any other racial/ethnic groups. One would think more severe psychological symptoms would mean increased likelihood of getting treatment, however that is not the case.
Of all adults with any mental illness, 43% receive treatment/counseling. Data collected in 2015 shows that among adults with mental illness, 48% of whites received mental health care, 31% of blacks received mental health care, and 22% of Asians received mental health care. Disparities do not only exist in prevalence and rates of mental illness- research also finds that minorities are more likely to receive worse care for mental illnesses. Measures of quality care for mental health include: person centered care, patient safety, healthy living, effective treatment, care coordination, and care affordability. On these quality measures, Blacks, American Indians, Native Americans/Pacific Islanders received worse care for about 40%; Hispanics received worse care for about 35% of measures than whites, and Asians received worse care than whites on 27% of measures. Lack of treatment or inadequate treatment compounded with more severe psychological symptoms mean disparities in access and quality of care have more consequences.
There are many reasons for the disparities in quality of care for these minority groups. Lack of cultural understanding by health care providers may contribute to misdiagnoses and under diagnoses in racial/ethnic minorities. Those suffering from mental illnesses may have personal barriers to overcome as well when seeking care, such as lack of insurance/underinsurance, district in the healthcare system, and initial illness stigma. Lack of diversity among healthcare providers, lack of culturally competent providers, and language barriers also contribute to disparities in quality of care. Regardless of the reason, disparities in quality of care mean that minorities have a harder time combating their symptoms and improving their mental health and quality of life.
Mental health is a public health issue. Around 18% of adults in the US have a diagnosable Mental Health Disorder. Mental health affects many people, no matter their age, race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or geography. However, everyone is affected differently, and statistics support this fact. It is important to understand how people’s intersecting identities relate to their experience with mental health. The first step is awareness of differences/disparities in prevalence, rates, symptoms, treatment, and thoughts about mental illness.