Prioritizing the Mental Health of Minorities: The Path to Equity

Published on May 09, 2024, 2:33 pm
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Mental health can sometimes present challenges in life – and in recent years, we’ve seen a broader normalization around conversations around mental healthcare needs. More than ever, increasing numbers of Americans, particularly young Americans, are feeling comfortable talking about the challenges they’re facing, and seeking out resources to address their needs. 

As this broader normalization of mental health conversations evolves, however, it’s clear that decades of inequitable health care have resulted in an environment where people receive vastly differing levels of care, depending on their socio-economic level and the color of their skin.

In an attempt to tackle disparity, more and more mental health practitioners are entering the workforce, including an increasing number using the benefits of remote learning to complete an online Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

How can we develop a broader mental health plan for society to ensure that no matter your race, sex, or religion, you receive equitable and equivalent mental health care? From the stigmas to the striking inequalities, let’s discover the challenge that modern clinical administrators have, and the solutions that are necessary to ensure that all Americans receive the same high level of mental health support.

Inequality in Mental Health Support

One of the challenges that minority groups face when receiving mental health support is the level of care that is afforded to them. Unfortunately, while there is an expectation that no matter the color of your skin, your mental health care availability should be roughly equal, in reality, treatment, and subsequent outcomes can vary wildly.

Take, for example, recent data published by the American Psychological Association, discussing the disparities that exist in mental health when considering racial and ethnic minorities.

The findings in the data were stark – highlighting that the diagnosis of serious mental illness among U.S. adults was often underreported for minority groups. Additionally, the treatment experiences of minorities with serious mental illness also highlighted a much more restrictive approach to treatment than the population more broadly.

Medical Mistrust Around Mental Health

What does that mean? At a global level, the World Health Organization notes that best practice for treating mental health issues typically involves three key characteristics – leadership and governance, a trained health workforce, and quality service delivery – this is usually in the form of a community-based healthcare service, to encourage patients to enter care voluntarily.

However, the American Psychological Association’s report, among many others, describes a stark difference when treating minorities with serious mental health issues in the U.S. Each report notes that there is a clear disparity in the rate of psychotic disorder diagnoses, with African-American and Hispanic patients being diagnosed at more than three times the rate of Caucasian patients.

At a treatment level, the APA notes that minorities are much more likely to be placed in involuntary hospitalizations when seeking care, or mistakenly diagnosed with conditions such as schizophrenia, something that researchers strongly suspect is a clinical bias. 

This sort of culture of diagnostic concern can foster mistrust of mental health services amongst minorities – with data demonstrating that patients from minorities feel that there is a level of medical mistrust, as well as a lack of confidence in the system.

Addressing the Needs of Culturally Diverse Communities

How do we begin to meet the needs of communities when addressing the challenges of mental health? Does the system require a total rebuild, or are there simple changes that can be done to get the most out of the system?

In recent years, an increasing number of Americans have begun to consider mental health as important as physical health. Recent data, published by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, notes that more than three-quarters of Americans surveyed hold this view.

However, obstacles exist when receiving sufficient treatment for mental health concerns, with more than forty-two per cent of the population noting that cost or poor insurance coverage was a key barrier to accessing healthcare.

It’s well documented that culturally diverse communities often have lower rates of private health insurance coverage, and are reliant on government programs such as Medicaid to cover the structural differences that exist between public and private mental health care.

Addressing the needs of culturally diverse communities isn’t about dumping an asylum into the middle of a community and locking people away. Simply put, it’s about creating a culture that tackles the stigmas that exist when talking about mental health care.

That includes breaking down barriers for participants and normalizing the way we talk about mental health as a community. Looking at the example of younger generations, we can see that this increased openness to talking about mental health, while sometimes tough to reconcile with, often leads to a greater awareness of mental health issues and a greater willingness to seek treatment and care when required.

The World of Equitable Mental Healthcare

What would a world of equitable mental healthcare look like in America? A 2021 paper by the non-partisan think-tank RAND Corporation poses an interesting question – imagining a world where best practices of mental healthcare are adopted and broadly implemented within the community.

Their findings focused on three core objectives – promoting pathways to care, improving access to care, and establishing evidence-based care practices among communities. Strategies that would apply considerably towards addressing the needs of minorities include:

  1. Developing a mental health strategy that focuses on community mental health.
  2. Improve the availability and quality of peer-support services.
  3. Form a learning collaborative for Medicaid mental health financing.

There is much that needs to be done to address the needs of those with mental health concerns in diverse communities. While these innovations will take time and effort, there are simple steps that we can take now that can often make a big difference in the lives of people around us.

We can learn a lot from organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, who use the month of May to celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. By bringing to light the challenges that people face with mental health, it’s hoped that we can begin to normalize this idea of seeking support and care when we’re having difficulty.

Sometimes it can be tough to talk about mental health – and that’s alright. Starting these conversations can help to break down barriers – so that the next time someone you know experiences a mental health issue, they can be reassured that it is a normal part of life and that it is OK.

A century ago, it wasn’t unusual to see people placed in asylums for speaking about mental health issues. A century from now, I hope mental healthcare will be as simple as seeing a doctor at a clinic – a part of everyday life that is available to meet all our needs.


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Jonas Bronck is the pseudonym under which we publish and manage the content and operations of The Bronx Daily.™ | - the largest daily news publication in the borough of "the" Bronx with over 1.5 million annual readers. Publishing under the alias Jonas Bronck is our humble way of paying tribute to the person, whose name lives on in the name of our beloved borough.