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Why Ethnic Minorities Suffer with Worse Mental Health


by Natasha Tracy - April 16, 2018


Photo Credit: by CanadaPharmacyOnline.com
Photo Credit: by CanadaPharmacyOnline.com

Mental health issues are known to appear across the population with no group being immune. Men and women, rich and poor can all have mental health issues. This is true for ethnic minorities as well. But unfortunately, being an ethnic minority is actually a risk factor for having a mental health disorder. Moreover, these minorities typically have special challenges in getting mental health help. Mental health disorders are difficult for anyone, but ethnic minorities often continue to suffer with worse mental health.

Mental Health Challenges for Ethnic Minorities

The 2001 landmark report Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity by the Surgeon General, documented that minorities tend to receive lower quality mental health care than Caucasians and that there are still major disparities in mental health services for African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives.

The paper Toward Culturally Centered Integrative Care for Addressing Mental Health Disparities among Ethnic Minorities documents that:

“African Americans experience more mental health disadvantages relative to Caucasian Americans with respect to financial barriers, barriers to help seeking, and poorer quality services. Research among low income African Americans indicated mental health treatment seeking barriers included poor access to care, stigma, and lack of awareness about mental illness . . . Additionally, ethnic minorities’ failure to perceive the need for care, partially account for the low rates of care for depression among this population . . .”

The Differences in Mental Health Experiences of Ethnic Minorities

What we know is that African Americans seek help less than others and this may be partly linked to a history of mistrust of medical professionals and cultural stigma around mental illness. This is understandable, as historically, African Americans have been treated very poorly by psychiatric professionals. In fact, to this day it is thought professionals inappropriately diagnose African Americans with schizophrenia more frequently than their white counterparts.

While ethnic minorities seek help less and have less access to healthcare, these aren’t the only issues. It has also been shown that the healthcare system provides less care and a lesser quality of care to African Americans than to Caucasians. Ethnic minorities also tend to experience more negative life impact from mental illnesses and the illnesses tend to be more chronic, likely due to lack of treatment.

Ethnic Minorities and Mental Health Suffering

While many would like to brush these disparities under the rug, they are very important to recognize to help society at large.

It is thought that factors that lead to care disparity include:

• Poor education

• Lack of health insurance coverage

• Economic challenges

• Impoverished environmental conditions

If we take a moment to imagine a person in a situation with the above four characteristics, it only stands to reason that a mental health condition would not get treated or possibly even recognized. However, just because a person is poor or less educated, that doesn’t make him or her less deserving of treatment nor does it mean the person wants treatment less. What it means is that the person is less educated about mental illness and just doesn’t know what to do about it or just can’t take the steps necessary for help due to lack of access.

What’s more, it appears that professionals simply treat ethnic minorities differently. There appears to be what one might call institutionalize racism within the system.

Reducing Ethnic Minority Mental Health Suffering Through Better Treatment

It is clear culturally-centered care needs to be added into the current treatment process. And while there is limited evidence of the benefit of this, some evidence is present for using culturally-responsive diagnostic and psychiatric treatment. It has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms in in ethnically and culturally diverse populations.

According to Toward Culturally Centered Integrative Care for Addressing Mental Health Disparities, successful treatment must be patient-centered. As they noted:

“. . . spirituality and religious practice as well as the role of the extended family are important sources of emotional, social and material support for ethnic minorities in health care settings . . . and should be incorporated in comprehensive health care models developed for this population. The cultures of racial and ethnic minorities influence many aspects of mental illness, including how patients from a given culture communicate and manifest their symptoms, their styles of coping and their willingness to seek treatment . . . We recognize the importance of cultural sensitivity as a central component of an effective integrated model of care that has the capacity of achieving improvements in physical health and behavioral health outcomes for ethnic minorities.”

A patient-centered diagnosis and treatment system that takes into account ethnic minority differences can be used by all mental health care professionals including general practitioners, psychiatrists and psychologists.

While it is unlikely that complete ethnic sensitivity will ever be reached, it is a worthy goal as ethnic minorities make up more than one in four people in the United States. This large group of people contribute to the economy and overall society. Their wellness should not be ignored.

References

Holden, Kisha et al, Toward Culturally Centered Integrative Care for Addressing Mental Health Disparities among Ethnic Minorities. American Psychological Association Division of Psychologists in Public Service. November 2014.

Trierweiler, S. J. et al, Clinician Attributions Associated with the Diagnosis of Schizophrenia in African American and Non-African American Patients. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 2000.

Wikipedia, Demography of the United States. Accessed March 19, 2918


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