Minority individuals face group-specific problems related to mental health, including differentials in diagnosis and treatment, stigma regarding mental health from both members of their own in-group and outsiders, and difficulty in finding professionals with the cultural competency necessary to address their specific needs. Moreover, by the year 2060, 56% of Americans will belong to at least one minority group. July is National Minority Mental Health Month, and although the distinct challenges that members of various minority groups face are too far reaching to all be addressed within this time period, it serves as a good starting point in acknowledging, if not taking steps to change, some of the larger treatment gaps and lack of knowledge related to minority mental health.
Non-minority individuals receive mental health care at rates ranging from double to quadruple those in minority groups. This is in part because racial and ethnic minority individuals are less likely to have access to mental health services and more likely to receive lower quality care than non-minority individuals. Likely due to this precedent of low quality of care, many minority individuals are also wary of using community mental health services and instead rely on emergency departments during behavioral health crises. While utilizing professionals in emergency departments is needed in certain situations, these facilities do not have the resources or expertise necessary to provide continued and preventative care for behavioral health problems. Consequently, individuals relying on these facilities for their primary behavioral health care needs are receiving a much lower quality and quantity of treatment than necessary.
Although there are group-specific barriers that contribute to this health care disparity, much of it can be attributed to societal barriers that all minority individuals face when seeking treatment. Minorities face transportation issues, difficulty finding childcare and difficulty taking time off work at higher rates than non-minorities. Moreover, the structure of the mental health system in the U.S. is weighted heavily toward non-minority values and cultural norms. Many minorities face racism, bias, and discrimination in treatment settings, and there is an insufficient number of providers who speak languages other than English. In many communities, these barriers are exacerbated by cultural norms that heavily stigmatize mental health problems and view treatment as futile. This pattern of treatment has led to and reinforced a cycle of poor mental health care for minority individuals.
Many actions need to be taken in order for minorities to receive the same quality and rate of treatment as non-minorities. One of the first steps that should be taken is increasing the cultural competence of current providers. Cultural competence refers to the ability to relate effectively to individuals from various groups and backgrounds and respond to the unique needs of members of minority populations.
Increasing cultural competency can start with exploring more about your own unique heritage and beliefs, then expanding your learning to other groups. However, while academic knowledge is an important part of cultural competence, it is equally important to directly experience other cultures, either by directly interacting with diverse people or by reading personal, first-hand accounts of experiences in a culture other than your own.