If you’ve experienced mental illness while living in the U.S., you may have witnessed first-hand how difficult it can be to find high-quality, readily available treatment. You may have run into long waitlists to get an appointment with a therapist. You might have noticed misconceptions surrounding mental illness and what it means to deal with it.
You’re not alone. Mental health care has been historically neglected in the U.S., though efforts in recent years have made significant strides. Finding the proper care when and where you need it can still be challenging.
Those challenges increase if you’re a member of a minority group. Minority groups include racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
A disparity refers to a barrier to care that disproportionately affects certain groups. Minority groups face more barriers to accessing mental health care. The social stigma around mental illness may be higher for them, and they may deal with discrimination in their search for care.
Acknowledging the disparities increases awareness of what minority groups go through and can help further the pursuit of solutions to close these gaps.
The population of the U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse. The census estimates that more than half of all Americans will belong to an ethnic group other than non-Hispanic White by 2044.
However, these ethnic groups continue to struggle in accessing mental health care. In 2015, 48% of Whites with mental illness received mental health services, according to the National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report. Meanwhile, 31% of Black Americans and Hispanics received the same care, along with 22% of Asian Americans.
What creates this gap? Several factors are behind these disparities, including:
The factors that contribute to disparities in mental health for people from ethnic and racial minorities may seem overwhelming. The first step to solving these issues is understanding them. Once the discrepancies are recognized, professionals, advocates, and all individuals can work to resolve them.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community also face obstacles in getting mental health care and treatment for mental illness. They share some barriers experienced by other minorities, but others are unique to their group.
People who identify as LGBTQ+ are more likely to:
LGBTQ+ individuals may experience mental illness in connection with the day-to-day difficulties that arise from being who they are. They are more likely to be victims of violence and receive less social support, especially if they live in an area with negative views towards their identity.
However, they may encounter discrimination or stigma specific to their identity while seeking care. These risks make them less likely to pursue treatment in the first place.
Identifying the disparities and their causes is only the first step toward finding solutions. Mapping out how disparities in care, stigma, etc., can be resolved is crucial in achieving equitable mental health care for all.
Raising awareness around mental illness and how it affects individuals is essential. If you don’t know how to recognize mental illness, it’s much easier to misconceive what’s happening to you or a loved one.
Raising awareness also helps defang the social stigma surrounding mental health issues. Many organizations are working towards this goal every day. National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month takes place during the month of July to further this effort.
The mental health field needs more professionals who come from minority populations. The greater the diversity of providers, the better access to care will be for everyone. More funding and scholarships can get people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ into programs to become mental health professionals.
Until the diversity of providers can increase, existing providers should have access to training that allows them to treat many different populations in a culturally sensitive manner. More education will improve care for all patients, not just minority ones.
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends dedicating more funding to advocacy groups and agencies pursuing these goals.
They also recommend increasing research around intersectionality and how belonging to more than one minority group can affect your mental health and related care.
Anyone can help destigmatize mental illness and close the gap for minority populations. Word of mouth is a powerful tool. If you’ve dealt with mental illness and feel comfortable sharing your story, it may help a loved one or someone in your community. Sharing on social media can show other people they aren’t alone.
Everyone deserves mental health treatment that’s unique and appropriate to them. Our treatment philosophy at Jackson House is to customize your plan to meet your highly individualized needs.
If you’re struggling with mental illness or substance abuse, seek help. We’re here to support you on the road to recovery.