Mental health illnesses are a crisis among all communities in the US, but it is minority communities that are less likely to be diagnosed, and less likely to access treatment and resources. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting a much-needed spotlight on the crisis of mental health, it’s also important to recognize the disproportionate impact mental illness takes on minority communities, including BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities.
July was National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, also known as BIPOC Mental Health Month. While July may have passed, we at HearMe are committed to continuing to highlight disparities in mental health access and take action to ensure our app — and other mental health resources — are accessible to everyone.
Mental Health Crisis Among Minority Communities
While one in five Americans experience a mental illness in a given year, minority communities are “far less likely to receive treatment.” For instance, in 2015, while 48% of white adults with mental illness received treatment, 37% of blacks and Hispanics and only 22% of Asians received treatment. Further, data from the Office of Minority Health show that in 2019, mental health related problems, such as suicide, was the leading or second leading cause of death among minority communities in the US.
It is critical that we look at these disparities through the lens of structural inequities attributed to culture, policy and law. These communities have historical and economic backgrounds that are embedded in inequality, which in turn affect both the physical, mental and emotional health outcomes of minority individuals.
Research suggests that poverty, culture, and stigma and discrimination are all factors that can lead to this disproportionate mental health burden among minority communities. According to the World Health Organization, mental health and poverty are “closely linked and interact in a complex negative cycle.” This can be exacerbated by cultural barriers, such as language and a lack of representation in the medical profession. When medical professionals do not share similar cultural backgrounds or speak the same language as their patients, there is a higher chance of misunderstanding or misdiagnosing patients. Evidence also shows that where language barriers exist, patients are often discouraged from using mental health services. Finally, stigma, discrimination and prejudice around the topic of mental health is prevalent among minority communities, leading to isolation and often preventing patients from seeking help or treatment.
What should be done to address this crisis?
From breaking down stigma by increasing awareness at every level to continuing to increase access to treatment options, there are a variety of factors that can help address mental health disparities among minority communities head-on. Policies and guidelines must be changed to ensure language options are available and to encourage diversity in the mental health profession, while funds should be increased and redirected to increase education programs and mental health provider options in minority communities.
While these efforts will go a long way in removing barriers and increasing access to mental health treatment and resources, it is critical that we not forget that structural inequities will continue to place an undue burden on minority communities and contribute to mental health illnesses. Livable wages, paid wellness time, affordable housing, universal healthcare, fair policing, among other policies, could all break down inequities that have long been insufficiently addressed in policy conversations on mental health, preventing minority and BIPOC communities from addressing and improving their mental health.
In the meantime, all of us can do our part to support efforts to tackle mental health disparities. We at HearMe have been advocating for mental health equity since we launched, and we will continue to look for ways to make our free listening service even more accessible to people worldwide to help improve mental health wellbeing.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness also stresses that everyone can help tackle mental health challenges among minority communities through the following interventions:
- Encourage mental health organizations to increase minority representation on staff or on their boards of directors
- Write, call or talk to legislators — both local and federal — to support efforts to improve access to and the quality of mental health services in your area
- Be a spokesperson when there is an opportunity to speak out on behalf of minority mental health
- Share information you’ve learned about accessing quality care to others
- Be more open and understanding towards what minority communities might be experiencing that you might not
If you or anyone you care about is in crisis, please seek help immediately. Call 1–800–273-TALK (8255) to reach a 24-hour crisis center, call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room.