Mental Health for Minorities
Mental health is said to be colorblind. Different minorities suffer from similar mental health issues. According to a landmark study by the WHO, the World Bank, and Harvard University, mental disorders are so disabling that, in established market economies like the United States, they rank second only to cardiovascular disease in their impact on disability. This proves that despite their race or color, mental health has been a worrisome phenomenon for every US citizen. What may put the BIPOC at risk is the racial discrimination they have to deal with often. In 2018, 3.8 percent of African American adults reported serious psychological distress. This percentage is higher for other minority groups as well compared to the Whites.
Overview of the Problems
Despite greater awareness in the past few years about the necessity of mental health services for all, minorities suffer a great disparity when it comes to the quality and availability of mental health services. Although some studies question this consensus, the weight of the evidence supports the existence of serious and persistent mental health care disparities. According to a study, only one-in-three African Americans who need mental health care receives it. Another states that racial and ethnic minorities bear a greater burden from unmet mental health needs and thus suffer a greater loss to their overall health and productivity.
The reasons why the mental health needs are unmet include the stigma associated with mental illness, distrust of the health care system, lack of providers from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds, lack of culturally competent providers, lack of insurance, underinsurance, the importance of family privacy, lack of knowledge regarding available treatments, and denial of mental health problems. Concerns about stigma, medications, not receiving appropriate information about services, and dehumanizing services have also been reported to hinder African Americans from accessing mental health services.
We outline a list of recommendations based upon various studies conducted to reduce and eliminate the disparities in the mental health care services for minorities.
For Health Care Systems
Primarily health care systems should take steps to improve access to care. This includes:
- Hospitals/mental health care providers should ensure that they do not disproportionately burden or restrict minority patients’ access to mental health care services.
- There should be interpreter services for improved communication between the patient and the practitioner provided by the health care providers.
- A system of rewards may be introduced for hospitals and health care providers upon improving their services, providing appropriate screening, preventive, and evidence-based clinical care to the minorities to encourage them.
- Increasing the proportion of racial/ethnic minority providers can also increase the trust of the minorities in their providers and it would also break the barriers of language between the patient and the provider.
Policy Intervention can help reduce/improve the quality and access to mental health care for minorities.
- Mental health greatly rests on understanding and communication between patients and providers. Culturally appropriate education for providers is important, as well as education to patients for a better understanding of disease and disease management. Therefore, a federal policy extending educational support to both parties is critical in improving disparities in the system. It includes educating providers about ethnic minority patients, and educating patients about mental illness and interventions, could help to reduce disparities.
- Federal policy needs to outreach and include a more diverse workforce in the mental health care system to remove the language and cultural diversity barriers between the patients and providers.
- Quality improvement interventions appropriate for ethnic minorities should be framed which in turn helps decrease the disparities in the system as some empirical studies suggest.
- Treat mental illness and substance use like any other illness by enforcing the federal parity law, enacting legislation that holds insurance companies accountable to it, and improving Medicare with special focus on the availability of care to ethnic and racial minorities. This can reduce the problem of lack of insurance and underinsurance. A low-cost insurance policy for mental health care can also be designed to provide a safety net to minorities.
- Enhance care integration and reduce costs for patients through innovative approaches like the Collaborative Care Model where the patient satisfaction with the care is much increased and the costs incurred to them are much lower.
- Boost access to mental health and substance use care by enhancing access to and payment for telepsychiatry. Especially in times like these where the COVID-19 crises have restricted the physical movement and the patients are more likely to fall victim to depression and other mental health problems.
 (Murray and Lopez 1996)
 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Center for Health Statistics 2018)
 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2001)
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