If you belong to a racial or ethnic minority group or indigenous population and are experiencing mental health challenges, you are not alone. Historically marginalized groups frequently encounter distinct stressors and disparities that impact their mental well-being.
Since 2008, National Minority Mental Health Awareness has been observed each July in the United States to shed light on the unique mental health challenges faced by minority communities1.
To foster a more inclusive society, we must promote mental health awareness among minority groups.
Overall, we live in a time with a decreased stigma around mental health concerns; however, barriers to mental health care for minorities still exist and are worthy of our attention.
What Groups Are Historically Marginalized?
Racial and ethnic minorities often face discrimination and bias, increasing stress, anxiety, and depression1. The cumulative effect of everyday microaggressions and overt racism can negatively impact mental health outcomes. Additionally, cultural stigma and mistrust of mental health services can deter individuals from seeking help, resulting in delayed or inadequate treatment.
Indigenous populations have historically endured the intergenerational effects of colonization, cultural erasure, and forced assimilation. This has resulted in high rates of mental health conditions, substance abuse, and suicide among indigenous communities. Healing and revitalizing cultural traditions and practices are crucial for promoting mental well-being within these groups.
Immigrants and refugees are another group of focus for Minority Mental Health Awareness. These individuals often experience significant stressors related to language barriers, social isolation, and trauma associated with leaving their loved ones who may still reside in their home country. Adapting to a new culture is a significant challenge when we consider how difficult it can be to find employment and housing.
National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the disproportionate mental health inequalities experienced by minority communities. These differences arise from various factors and include:
- systemic racism
- cultural stigma
- limited access to healthcare
- language barriers
- socioeconomic challenges
While many mental health treatment services, online therapy platforms, and medication providers exist in the United States, minority groups are not getting connected as often as others. Here’s why:
- Lack of diversity among psychologists. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), only 17% of mental health providers are part of a racial or ethnic minority2. In some cases, individuals have had negative experiences with providers who do not understand the importance or relevance of their racial identity and want to avoid further pain or alienation.
- Cultural stigma. Mental illness can be taboo in specific ethnic groups and communities3, which can further silence significant mental health care needs. The cultural norm of not discussing mental illness or taking it seriously deters many from seeking help. In addition, a psychiatric diagnosis may be viewed as a sign of weakness by peers.
- The cost of services is too high. Socioeconomic factors can make treatment options less available. In 2021, 17.7% of Hispanic or Latino people had no health insurance4. Sliding scale or reduced fees may still be too high to maintain an ongoing therapeutic relationship, so no contact is made with providers.
- Implicit bias of providers. According to the APA’s Mental Health Facts for African Americans guide, Black individuals are less likely to receive guideline-consistent care due to how a provider perceives specific behavior5. Provider symptom interpretation can dramatically alter how psychiatric care or screening is conducted. Studies show that at least two-thirds of healthcare providers hold some form of implicit bias against marginalized groups despite conscious efforts to provide unbiased care to all patients. Even when an individual gains access to an appointment, implicit biases may shape how a mental health professional views them.
- Media portrays people seeking therapy as generally Caucasian. Movies, TV shows, and advertisements depict mostly white individuals attending therapy sessions. This could make it seem like therapy isn’t for people with different life experiences or racial identities.
- Normalizing stress. Individuals have encountered trauma in the form of racism (both covert and overt) but view it as a regular part of their life and do not pursue help. Additionally, older generations of various races may convey that toughness and not seeking help are the norm.
A Case for Change
In many cases, these barriers result in individuals not receiving the mental health interventions they need. Additionally, they could likely receive a misdiagnosis and drop out of care due to providers’ biases that make pursuing ongoing care challenging.
It’s clear that the demographics of the U.S. population are not yet mirrored within the mental health provider workforce; however, new data suggests that the numbers of racial and ethnic minority mental health providers are increasing. From 2000 and 2009, the number of racial and ethnic minorities who provide psychiatric care more than doubled (from 7,140 to 18,986 individuals)6.
Promoting Awareness and Culturally Competent Care
National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month aims to address these gaps in mental health care by promoting culturally competent mental health services. This movement involves raising awareness among healthcare providers, policymakers, and the public about the specific needs and challenges faced by minority communities.
Additionally, mental health professionals must recognize a need to deliver more appropriate and inclusive care by identifying and understanding the diverse cultural contexts and experiences that shape mental health for racial and ethnic minorities.
A critical first step in addressing the mental health awareness of minorities is gaining understanding of the discrepancy. Acknowledging barriers to mental health access and help-seeking behaviors is paramount to creating change.
Approaches for improving the outlook of mental health treatment for minorities could include:
- Community-based organizations, mental health advocacy groups, and grassroots initiatives. These are fundamental for promoting mental health awareness within minority communities. They create safe spaces and support networks and provide educational resources that empower individuals to seek help and access culturally sensitive care.
- Partnerships between mental health providers and community leaders. Collaborative efforts can encourage trust and bridge the gap between mental health services and minority populations.
- Language accessibility. This is another essential aspect of promoting mental health awareness. Providing information and resources in multiple languages ensures that individuals from diverse linguistic backgrounds can access the support they need.
- Culturally appropriate outreach campaigns. Utilizing media platforms and social networks appropriately can also help to challenge stigma and normalize conversations about mental health within minority communities.
- Integrating mental health education within schools and community centers. This can help young individuals develop resilience and receive early intervention for mental health issues when needed. Implementing comprehensive mental health policies that address the unique needs of minority communities is also critical for reducing differences in access to care and promoting equity.
More Work Ahead
While there are tangible ways to increase awareness and mental health initiatives for racial and ethnic minorities, significant work remains in changing the narrative for seeking mental health treatment through education, training, and continuing to destigmatize the mental health needs of minorities.
Addressing mental health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities requires a multi-faceted approach that includes policy changes, increased access to culturally competent care, community engagement, and education. It is essential to foster collaborations between mental health providers, community organizations, and minority leaders to develop targeted strategies that meet the unique needs of these communities.
Conclusion: A Future with Increased Awareness
By promoting awareness, challenging stigma, and expanding access to resources, National Minority Mental Health Awareness can empower individuals to seek intervention to support their mental wellness. Not every human can flourish until we can create a more equitable approach to pursuing mental health services.
National Minority Mental Health Awareness helps amplify voices and share experiences to increase understanding for the well-being of our diverse society. While Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is observed in July, minority mental health is important throughout the year, and efforts to address mental health disparities and promote mental health equity should be ongoing.
- July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month | Community Health of Central Washington. Accessed June 25, 2023. https://www.chcw.org/july-is-minority-mental-health-month/
- O’Malley L. Addressing the Lack of Black Mental Health Professionals. INSIGHT Into Diversity. Published November 17, 2021. https://www.insightintodiversity.com/addressing-the-lack-of-black-mental-health-professionals/#:~:text=Background
- American Psychiatric Association. Mental Health Disparities: African Americans. www.psychiatry.org. Published 2017. https://www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Psychiatrists/Cultural-Competency/Mental-Health-Disparities/Mental-Health-Facts-for-African-Americans.pdf
- Bureau UC. Census Bureau Releases New Report on Health Insurance by Race and Hispanic Origin. Census.gov. Published November 22, 2022. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2022/health-insurance-by-race.html#:~:text=The%20U.S.%20uninsured%20rate%20in
- Mental Health Counselor Demographics and Statistics : Number Of Mental Health Counselors In The US. www.zippia.com. Published January 29, 2021. https://www.zippia.com/mental-health-counselor-jobs/demographics
- Bureau UC. American Psychological Association Uses ACS Data to Identify Need for Mental Health Services, Education, and Training. Census.gov. https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/about/acs-data-stories/psychologists.html#:~:text=Using%20its%20own%20interactive%20data