Inequality Lingers in Mental Health Treatment for Minorities

A woman stands alone in front of a bridgeThe mental health care industry in the United States is trying to close an ongoing gap in treatment quality and availability that disproportionately appears to impact minorities. Such findings have been repeated in several studies, including a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report and a panel investigation published by the American Psychological Association.

Each report found a majority of people with a mental health condition do not seek help, and minorities are less likely than whites to seek care. Issues of cost and access play a significant role for many, along with language barriers and the factor of greater stigma in certain cultures.

The gap in mental health care is not new. A 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General found Latinos, Asian-Americans, African-Americans, and Native Americans each received less mental health care compared to white counterparts.

Minority Mental Health Treatment Faces Barriers

The reasons for not seeking available treatment can be as a diverse as the backgrounds involved. Among certain Asian-Americans, for instance, the Surgeon General’s report found a greater level of stigma that could extend to include a person’s family. The shame associated with one family member’s mental health condition can affect the future potential of other family members. That level of stigma could easily deter someone from seeking the help of a qualified mental health professional.

While greater acceptance of mental health treatment has grown significantly in recent decades, the progress has been slower in non-white communities, extending beyond stigma to also include doubt in certain circles.

According to the CDC report, while 6% of white respondents in California disagreed that treatment could ever help those with mental health symptoms lead a normal life, that number jumped to 10% among Hispanics and 17% among black non-Hispanics.

Similar results were seen in most states, where ethnic-minorities were shown to believe less in not just treatment, but also the human capacity for caring and sympathy toward those needing help.

According to psychotherapist Lisa Vallejos, PhD, LPC, cultural differences likely play a role in the stigma of seeking out mental health support.

“There are many cultures who look down on seeing therapists, and cultures who see seeking outside help as bad,” Vallejos said. “Minorities in particular are one of the populations who tend to not seek help for treatable mental illnesses out of fear of stigma and out of a mistrust of the system.”

Interventions for Better Connections

The 2014 APA investigation found that tackling language and cultural barriers was often a crucial step to ensuring quality care. The report encourages treatment that “considers culture, shows respect, and assesses and affirms patient differences” as a means to providing “a comfortable, supportive environment to express mental health concerns.”

Several interventions are currently underway in an effort to bring quality mental health treatment to minorities rather than waiting for them to seek help themselves. An ongoing trial from academic researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital is training providers to be more supportive and to do more shared decision-making with patients who do not share their ethnic or cultural background. Scientists will be analyzing data from the trial in the coming months.

Another intervention from the National Institute on Aging is working to train health care workers in communities that serve elderly people in minority groups to provide evidence-based mental health care for several conditions in Chinese, Spanish, and English.

Vallejos is encouraged that more in the industry are examining the issue of undertreatment among minorities.

“There is much more attention and awareness to these concerns,” she said. ”But we in mental health have a long way to go.”

References:

  1. Alegria, M., Takeuchi, D. (2006). Considering context, place and culture: the National Latino and Asian American Study. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/mpr.178/abstract
  2. Office of the U.S. Surgeon General (August 2001) Mental Health: Culture, Race & Ethnicity. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK44243/
  3. Holden, K., McGregor, B. (2014) Toward Culturally Centered Integrative Care for Addressing Mental Health Disparities Among Ethnic Minorities. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/ser-a0038122.pdf
  4. Kobau, R. (2012) Attitudes Toward Mental Illness. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/Mental_Health_Reports/pdf/BRFSS_Report_InsidePages.pdf
  5. Wang, S. (2016, January 11). Campus Researchers Try New Ways to Close a Gap in Mental-Health Care. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/campus-researchers-try-new-ways-to-close-a-gap-in-mental-health-care-1452535197

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  • jeff q

    jeff q

    January 20th, 2016 at 2:33 PM

    As a black male I will tell you that most black men would rather do almost anything over admitting that they have a weakness or that they need some health in their mental health. This is not something that is ever openly talked about in our community and believe me most of the men that I know in my family would rib you mercilessly if they even thought that this was something that you were considering. It is just seen as something that you should be able to handle on your own.

  • William

    William

    January 21st, 2016 at 11:17 AM

    Just when you start to think that we have come so far you realize just how far we still have left to go.

  • Moni

    Moni

    January 21st, 2016 at 2:43 PM

    I’m not a male. But I am black. And its super hard being told your Bipolar 1 with psychotic features. Because I was raised that you must be strong and rely on God. But its so hard. People forget that we are not just Black, White, Latina or Latino, Native American or Asian. We are ALL Human. That’s that.

  • Gena

    Gena

    January 21st, 2016 at 3:31 PM

    THe accessibility is lacking as well as the resources to get to the treatment if it is needed

  • Fracine

    Fracine

    January 22nd, 2016 at 8:37 AM

    Education is power.
    We have to do more in terms of community outreach, getting the word out that it is not only okay to seek out help but that there is help out there if or when you need it.
    The key is letting people know where they can find that help, and have transportation available for them to get to it.

  • Mira

    Mira

    January 24th, 2016 at 12:02 AM

    when i seeked a cousellor for help…he right out said to me…wouldnt it be better if you saw someone from your own community/someone who spoke your language. Mind you…i was born in USA and speak english fluently. i decided to drop him, as i felt maybe he is not comfortable working with a minority and i was trying to get away from my so called “community” and was looking for a different perspective.

  • jett

    jett

    January 25th, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    Oh MIra that’s terrible! Who is he to judge what you are seeking? You were right to find someone else.

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