Advancing and Supporting Mental Health EquityJuly 28, 2021
July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. It offers a chance to examine the historical and current barriers that people from diverse backgrounds experience in achieving mental well-being.
Health equity is a key driver for mental and physical well-being. Today, people of color and other marginalized people continue to experience disproportionate barriers to quality and culturally competent mental health support. Organizations looking to provide high-quality care to diverse communities must address these obstacles.
Challenges for people of color
People of color—including Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska Native people—experience a greater lack of timely and accurate mental health diagnosis and quality care, including care from other people of color.*
Some of these gaps in mental health treatment include:
- Diagnoses of major depression and anxiety are 32-40% lower in Black and Hispanic communities.
- American Indian/Alaska Native women aged 15-24 have the highest suicide rate compared to all ethnic groups.
- 27% of Hispanic and Latino people experience depression, but only 5% use antidepressant medication.
- Asian-American adults are less likely to use mental health services than any other ethnic group.
Recognizing these disparities is the first step in transforming the mental healthcare system to provide better, more equitable mental healthcare for all people.
Culturally competent care
Another important aspect of health equity for marginalized people is the diversity and cultural competency of healthcare professionals. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines culturally competent care as "the delivery of care within the context of appropriate physician knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of cultural distinctions leading to optimal health outcomes.”
Increasing diversity among healthcare professionals can help reduce biases and ensure that care is delivered in a respectful manner demonstrating cultural humility. Other practices include having language resources like multilingual doctors or interpreters for non-English speakers. The percentage of Americans who speak a primary language other than English continues to grow; therefore, offering services tailored to their language preferences can improve health outcomes.
Continuing medical education programs, such as MyDiversePatients, educate doctors about bias and cultures different from their own. These programs help create stronger and more trustworthy relationships between doctors and patients.
How to get involved
Everyone can take steps to raise awareness and acceptance about mental health to improve equity, including:
- Learning more about mental health and equity using trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Minority Health portal and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health.
- Sharing mental health resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health Resources (MHR). The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law is another valuable organization focused on civil rights and equality of adults and children with mental disabilities. And Mental Health America is the nation’s leading community-based nonprofit dedicated to mental health.
- Being a supportive ally to those in your life experiencing mental health disorders or conditions. Acknowledging the disparity minorities experience and letting them know they are seen and heard.
- Having conversations about health equity can help others learn as well.
Mental health is health, and we must make our mental health a priority to achieve whole health. Supporting mental health equity for marginalized people can help all people and their communities thrive.