Factors Affecting Mental Health Care in Minority Populations

Man standing while woman leans on himJuly is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and the mental health issues of minority populations are an increasing source of concern for public health experts. While members of minority groups in the United States experience mental health issues at a similar rate to people how are white, they are less likely to seek treatment. The result is that more people of color have untreated mental health conditions, and the symptoms of their conditions typically grow more severe before they finally get help. Clinicians interested in providing treatment to minority populations should be mindful of the ways minority group membership can affect mental health. People of color face unique mental health risk factors.

Understanding Stereotype Threat

All clinicians involved in treating minority populations should be mindful of the effects of stereotype threat. Stereotype threat occurs when a person is aware of a negative stereotype about his or her group and then becomes so anxious that he or she cannot perform at the optimal level. Clinicians with prejudicial views of minority groups can be particularly harmful to the people they treat in therapy.

Barriers to Treatment for Minority Groups

The Hispanic population in the United States is rapidly increasing, and studies indicate that people who identify as Hispanic are significantly less likely to seek mental health treatment from clinicians than other groups. Instead, people who are Hispanic tend to go to clergy or family physicians, who can provide help and support but are unlikely to provide quality mental health care. Increasing the awareness of mental health issues among clergy members might improve this situation, as some people will be more likely to seek treatment if advised to do so by a priest or pastor.

In some minority groups, there is a significant stigma associated with seeking mental health care. This stigma can be exacerbated by societal oppression. A person of color might, for example, be fearful that they will be judged more harshly for a mental health condition than a person who is white.

Language barriers can also decrease people’s desire to seek treatment. Clinicians should be mindful of cultural differences between themselves and the people they work with in therapy and should be prepared both to be knowledgeable about and respectful of cultural differences. For example, a recent immigrant may not wish to tell their family about their diagnosis, and their reticence in doing so should not be viewed as resistance to treatment or a failure to acknowledge a diagnosis.

The Effects of Discrimination

Though politicians still spend time arguing about whether racism is alive and well, the simple fact of the matter is that most people of color do face discrimination. The effects of this discrimination can add up. Twenty-five percent of the black male population, for example, is under some sort of judicial system supervision—jail, probation, etc.—and this can result in a sense of depression, helplessness, and hopelessness in minority communities. Even when discrimination is rare, negative, oppressive interactions lower self-esteem and inhibit self-efficacy. Clinicians should be prepared to take into account the ways in which racism and anti-immigrant sentiments contribute to depression and anxiety in minority populations.

Poverty and Education

In the U.S. people of color are more likely to be poor than people who are white. Poverty not only exacerbates existing mental health conditions; it can also make treatment prohibitively costly. Similarly, educational levels may affect the willingness of people of color to seek treatment. When people are unaware of how mental health issues work, they are more likely to view a mental health diagnosis as stigmatizing. Clinicians should take special care to explain diagnoses and treatment to people who are unfamiliar with the mental health system.


  1. Mental Health. (n.d.). Minority Month: Focusing on Issues Affecting Hispanics. Retrieved from http://voxxi.com/minority-mental-health-month-hispanics/
  2. Richards, G. (2012). Race, racism and psychology: Towards a reflexive history. London: Routledge.
  3. Watson, P. (2007). Psychology and race. New Brunswick, NJ: AldineTransaction.

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  • lana

    July 12th, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    From my point of view one of the biggest factors affecting this lack of treatment seeking is a fear that they can either not afford it or that they will be shamed by others in their community for seeking this kind of care.

    Lack of access to adequate health care for financial reasons is shameful, especially in this nation of so much that chooses to give so little back to those in need.

    As far as community stereotypes and taboos that surface, there is very little that those of us outside of these groups can do to change that. This is something that has to be done from within and unfortunately those kinds of all encompassing changes tend to take a great deal of time.

  • ZACK

    July 13th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    I have become so disengaged and angry form all of the discrimination I feel like I have faced in my own life. As a back male, do you know how hard it is to see others crost the street to avoid making contact with you? After a while, well, you just kind of get pissed off about it, and then anger leads you down some roads that you wouldn’t want to take. It is something that I am not sure how I will ever get under control because I have become that stereotypical angry black male, and even when I don’t want to be that way anymore, there is still such a lack of trust in others that I feel like this is to be my ultimate path in life.

  • RW

    July 13th, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    All these reasons for people of color having more problem than their White counterparts are man-made if you look at it.So the answer to address is these problems is also there-in the people!

    We need to stop all forms of racism and drive it out of the society.only then can there be true peace.

  • GLAdys

    July 14th, 2012 at 4:29 AM

    Aren’t these things that all of us have to confront in our lives, whether we are a minority or not?

  • joanna

    July 14th, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    always better to identify such factors because these factors can change with a change in location,ethnicity,culture and even language.not all people have the same problems that affect their mental health and its always best that help is targeted towards the identified areas for each individual.

  • Gregg

    July 14th, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    Gladys, to a certain point I do agree with you. Many of us have had to face these same types of adversities in our own lives and have been able to fight them back with the support of others in our lives. But what about those for whom they face these things on a minute by minute basis? Or who do not have the same sort of strong support system that perhaps you and I are fortunate enough to have had? I am not saying that it is okay to always use excuses but I think that it is important to remember that we have not walked in their shoes so to please try to withold judgement until we have.

  • Stella

    July 15th, 2012 at 4:29 PM

    Minority groups are so often overlooked by society as a whole, yet they face many experiences in life that most of us have never had to deal with. They can feel marginalized and belittled, which then keeps them from being unable to live up to what is their true worth and potential. I thought that we as an enlightened society would be better and know better than doing that to others.

  • Aspen

    January 25th, 2014 at 1:05 PM

    That isn’t “mental illness stigma” that should be changed to “mental HEALTHCARE stigma”. Mental illness stigma is the stigmatization of persons being mentally ill; stigmatization for seeking mental healthcare concerns about the mental healthcare itself.

    The two should not be mixed together as they are two separate things e.g. a person can experience discrimination for being mentally ill i.e. sanism WITHIN mental health care.

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