By Zenisha Shah, CEI Writer and Counselor at Innisfree House School
Imagine how your life would be impacted if you had to, first, find a specialist to address your mental health concerns equitably—without bias our judgement? This is a reality, if you are a member of an ethnic, racial, religious, or gender group. Accessing quality mental health services has been a struggle for individuals who belong to these groups (Shushansky, 2017).
Disparities Start Early
The disparity for some populations who seek mental health help and treatment starts in childhood. Latinx and African American children made 49% and 37% fewer visits, respectively, to the psychiatrist than did white children, despite their equal need (Marrast, 2016).
The William Grant report (Alegria et al., 2015), states that most psychiatric disorders have their onset in childhood or adolescence, and thereby become a risk factor in lifelong development and treatment of mental health. Unfortunately, adverse childhood experiences, which some groups experience at higher rates, not only contribute to adverse mental health but also more trouble with the criminal justice system.
As Dr. Lyndonna Marrast, author of Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mental Health Care for Children and Young Adults: A National Study rightfully states, “It has become increasingly clear that minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and underrepresented in the receipt of mental health care. We need to look closely at how equitably our health care institutions are serving all segments of society.”
Explaining the Disparity
To help these individuals, we first need to understand why this disparity in access and treatment for some groups, such as people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ, occurs. There are many reasons they aren’t getting proper care. Here are some of them:
A lack of research on mental health needs for diverse populations
The mental health system is based on different cultural norms and values
Misdiagnosis of mental illness due to lack of cultural awareness and understanding
Perceptual discrepancies and faulty beliefs in some communities (i.e. “Mental health treatment doesn’t work.”)
Higher stigma attached to mental health in various cultures
Discrimination, bias and racism in treatment clinics
Other cultural barriers like language and family values
Physical barriers like lesser finances to spare for health care insurance, transportation issues, and availability of mental health services in a certain neighborhood
Promoting Mental Health Equity
As we move towards a more globalized world, we need a more culturally sensitive and competent mental health system. Moving towards more effective and better mental health for the all populations will not only help the individuals from the marginalized groups, but also help bridge the inequity gap. Investing in mental health can help improve individuals’ productivity, decrease crime rates, and thereby increase community well-being.
To improve mental health and well-being for all individuals, we must first educate ourselves, our students, teachers, and clinicians about our inherent biases and stigma attached with certain groups. Awareness is the first step to addressing this inequity; however, we can’t stop there. We need to have the difficult conversations about discrimination and bias. We can train our teachers, counselors and clinicians to be culturally competent and increase the number of mental health service providers who have worked with diverse groups. We can increase programs that help others understand childhood adversity and trauma. We also need to involve parents, families and communities to ensure equity. Finally, we must do more research with a variety of populations (American Psychological Association, 2019). The list below highlights some resources that can help individuals from various groups.
Mental Health Resources for All
Alegría, M., Greif Green, J., McLaughlin, K. A., & Loder, S. (2015). Disparities in Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Mental Health Services in the U.S. William T. Grant Foundation. American Psychological Association. (2019). Addressing racial and ethnic disparities in youth mental health. American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association. (2019). Promoting positive mental health among racial/ethnic minority children: Ensuring and enhancing services, programs, and resources. American Psychological Association. John, T. (2016). 8 Reasons Racial and Ethnic Minorities Receive Less Mental Health Treatment. Arundel Lodge Behavioral Health. Liang, J., Matheson, B. E., & Douglas, J. M. (2016). Mental Health Diagnostic Considerations in Racial/Ethnic Minority Youth. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1926–1940. DOI 10.1007/s10826-015-0351-z Marrast, L. (2016). Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Mental Health Care for Children and Young Adults: A National Study. Physicians for a National Health Program. Mental Health America. (2019). Minority mental health. Mental Health America. Office of Minority Health. (2019, July 1). Minority Mental Health Awareness Month July. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Shushansky, L. (2017). Disparities Within Minority Mental Health Care. National Alliance on Mental Illness.