Minority Mental Health: Bridging the Gap
Minorities have less access to mental health services than Caucasians, are less likely to receive needed care, and are more likely to receive inferior quality of care when they are treated. Inequities in mental health care delivery and access experienced by minority populations in the United States must be acknowledged and resolved.
Reasons for the challenges faced by minorities are complex and directly related to economic and racial disparities inherent in the social structure.
The poverty gap: People of color are more likely to live under the poverty line and are thus less likely to have insurance or be able to afford proper mental health treatment.
Cultural and racial underrepresentation in the mental health field: People of color make up only 16% of the psychology workforce. Therefore, people of color seeking treatment are less likely to have a provider who understands their cultural background, language and values.
Racism: People of color often face racial discrimination in their everyday lives, and may fear the same racism or cultural insensitivity from health care providers. They may also worry that providers would disregard the real problems causes by such discrimination when discussed in therapy.
Stigma: Stigma about mental illness exists across all populations. However, many minority cultures view mental illness as humiliating, unimportant or a sign of weakness. These views can lead to the decision not to seek psychiatric help.
Criminal justice over treatment: Among the young people served by mental health systems, young people of color are more likely to be referred to the juvenile justice system than white youth.
It is due to all these factors that many people of color distrust the mental health care system and do not believe it can help them on a road to recovery.
For mental health providers or others who want to better serve diverse populations, culturally sensitive care means an understanding of systemic racism — from microaggressions to direct discrimination and harassment.
The Effect of Racism on Mental Health
Facing racial discrimination comes in many forms and can have negative impacts on mental health.
Racial discrimination can lead to:
- Feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem
- Fear of going outside
- Fear of the police
- Fear that you are being watched
- Fear of being harmed
People who experience extreme events of racial discrimination can develop racial trauma, which can lead to PTSD and worsen symptoms of anxiety or depression.
People who have experienced traumatic events due to discrimination may therefore be more likely to suffer from mental health problems. One study revealed that racial discrimination can continue to affect a person’s mental health long after the initial exposure.
Additionally, racist offenses do not even have to happen directly to a person for them to be negatively affected. Another study concluded that videos depicting the killing of unarmed Black Americans have adverse mental health impacts on the Black Americans who watched them. These effects lasted for up to three months for many who participated in the study.
The on-screen deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as the attempted framing of Christian Cooper in New York, are difficult to watch for everyone. However, people who have experienced racism firsthand can easily place themselves into the shoes of those who have been killed. People of color are especially vulnerable to lasting impacts from viewing such tragic and discriminatory events.
Given the additional burden of racial discrimination, the discrepancy in mental health care for people of color is even more problematic. There needs to be a change to how minority mental health is approached, with a focus on how to best help people of color who face the struggles of racial discrimination.
For therapeutic intervention to be successful for people of color, treatment needs to be equally accessible, empathetic and competent as it is for white people. People of color should feel heard and helped when they seek therapy for the first time rather than feeling like the mental health system is just another reason to give up.
Investigate the resources below to find out about the issues and what you can do to help make the system change.
Please note that views on medication, therapy, or causes don’t automatically reflect the views of NAMI Georgia or NAMI National.
72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell
Bipolar Faith: A Black Woman’s Journey with Depression and Faith by Monica A. Coleman
Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
The Mother of Black Hollywood by Jenifer Lewis
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem MSW, LICSW, SEP
Soothe Your Nerves: The Black Woman’s Guide to Understanding and Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, and Fear by Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett
The Color of Hope: People of Color Mental Health Narratives by Iresha Picot
Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man’s Education by Mychal Denzel Smith
Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting by Terrie Williams
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome by Dr. Joy Angela Degruy
The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois
Black Rage: Two Black Psychiatrists Reveal the Full Dimensions of the Inner Conflicts and the Desperation of Black Life in the United States by William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs