Another year is here and it welcomes another year of Mental Health Awareness Month! Every May is dedicated to the promotion of mental health awareness across the communities of the U.S. in hopes of increasing better familiarity of mental health disorders, treatments, supports, and recovery and hopefully in turn the decrease of stigma with those who live with it.
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) website, about 1 of 5 Americans or 43.8 million Americans aged 18 year and older live with a diagnosable mental health disorder. However, within that population only two-thirds of Americans have not sought treatment (NAMI, n.d.). This number gets a little bigger when looking at ethnic and racial communities. For example, African Americans and Hispanic Americans sought “mental health services about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans in the past year and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate” (NAMI, n.d.). So why do minorities not seek treatment?
Minorities face various barriers when seeking mental health treatment according to the Simmons School Social Work’s article titled, Racial Disparities in Mental Health Treatment. These include:
- Different cultural perceptions about mental illness and well-being
- Racism and discrimination
- Being more vulnerable to being uninsured
- Cultural differences in help-seeking behaviors
- Language and other communication barriers
- Fear and mistreat of treatment
For example, in “cultural difference in help-seeking behaviors”, 15% of African-Americans, 13% of Latinos, and 11% of Asian Americans felt “they would have received better mental health care if they were a different race or ethnicity (Racial Disparities in Mental Health Treatment, n.d.). African-Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Latinos are often the minority groups who are uninsured, compared to whites. Also, these same groups experience lower levels of education and income compared to other minority groups (e.g. Asian Americans) and whites (Racial Disparities in Mental Health Treatment, n.d.).
In terms of “Different cultural perceptions about mental illness and well-being”, the Mental Health America’s (MHA) website for example, provides reasons why African Americans do not seek treatment for depression:
- Denial (40%)
- Embarrassment/shame (38%)
- Don’t want/refuse help (31%)
- Lack money/insurance (29%)
- Fear (17%)
- Lack knowledge of treatment/problem (17%)
- Hopeless (12%)
Other reasons include seeing “depression as a personal weakness” (63% compared to 54% of the nation), not seeing depression as a “health problem” and viewing depression more as normal part of life especially when dealing with loss of a loved one.
A last alternative reason for why minorities due not seek treatment for mental illness is due to the fear of a doctor’s bias and misconception towards their respective ethnic communities. Not to mention, they feel that some clinical sites do not respect or fall in compliance with their ethnic cultures. In spite of this, there 56% of American doctors believe the reason why treatment is never given is because they were never provided training on cultural competency. If they could, perhaps better understand their culture and language.
Yes, it’s weird that why we have to have an event once a year (well technically there about three other monthly/weekly events that promote mental health) to talk about issues like these. But I think like every holiday/observation, Mental Health Awareness month compels us to pay attention to the mental health disorders and misconceptions that plague our communities and families. It’s a great way of promoting mental health awareness to medical practitioners, locals, families, schools and other population groups by updating and/or finding solutions in order to create a more informed, educated and trained humane society.
Mental Health America (MHA). (n.d) African American Communities and Mental Health. Retrieved on April 30, 2016, from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/african-american-mental-healthNational
Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI). (n.d.) Facts About Stigma and Mental Illness in Diverse Communities.” Retrieved on April 30, 2016 from http://www2.nami.org/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm?ContentFileID=5148
National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI). (n.d.) Mental Health By The Numbers. Retrieved on April 30, 2016from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers
Simmons School of Social Work. (n.d.) Racial Disparities in Mental Health Treatment. Retrieved on April 30, 2016 from https://socialwork.simmons.edu/racial-disparities-in-mental-health-treatment/