21 Jul Addressing the Mental Health Challenges Facing America’s BIPOC Communities
While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the discussion around mental health awareness, the conversation is especially nuanced when it comes to communities of color. For this very reason, our focus shifts to the individualized mental health challenges that underrepresented populations in America are facing throughout the month of July.
Officially recognized in 2008, Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is designed to shed light on the complicated structural and societal factors that affect individuals within all Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. These factors – including the lived experience of racism and discrimination, social determinants of health, and the resulting internalized stress – contribute to increased levels of trauma and related mental health conditions within these populations.
By dedicating the awareness month to Campbell, it pays homage to the visionary author and journalist’s efforts to highlight and advocate for the mental health needs of underrepresented communities. Today, July may be referred to as either the “Bebe Moore Campbell BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month,” or simply “BIPOC Mental Health Awareness Month.”
How Individual + Collective Group Experiences of Discrimination Influence Mental Health
Discrimination and disparity are faced by many nonwhite people in America, implicitly or otherwise. In 2020, KFF published data that revealed seven out of 10 Black Americans report experiencing discrimination or police mistreatment at some point in their lives. A similar Pew study validated that sentiment. Their findings reveal that about three-quarters of both Black and Asian respondents, and 58% of Hispanics report experiencing discrimination or unfair treatment based on their race or ethnicity. Notably, 67% of white adults reported never experiencing this feeling.
Discrimination based on race – and the resulting prejudice and violence – have a lasting impact, driving inequities and fostering heightened levels of internalized stress and grief. Daily experiences such as these that reinforce feelings of otherness have an outsized impact on individual esteem and mental health.
The link between discrimination and long-term health has been well-established. A meta-analysis of over 300 scientific articles published on the causal connection between racial discrimination and mental health identified the significant driving impact of discrimination on poor mental health outcomes, including high levels of depression, anxiety, and stress. The same analysis also identified a strong association between the experience of racism and defined psychiatric disorders.
Stigma and Disparities Associated with Seeking Mental Health Care
While the experience of discrimination fuels mental health challenges, it also helps foster resistance toward acknowledging, accepting, and seeking treatment. When discussing the stigmatization of mental healthcare within BIPOC communities, Bebe Moore Campbell is famously quoted as saying: “While everyone – all colors – everyone is affected by stigma, no one wants to say ‘I’m not in control of my mind.’ … But people of color really don’t want to say it because we already feel stigmatized by virtue of skin color or eye shape or accent, and we don’t want any more reasons for anyone to say, ‘You’re not good enough.’”
Indeed, stigma is pervasive. In many communities, notably the Black community, mental health challenges are regarded as a weakness or personal shortcoming, rather than an illness that ought to be treated. Based on its research, Mental Health America concludes that many individuals within Black communities believe that alluding to mild depression or anxiety would be perceived as ‘crazy’ within their social circles, and that individuals do not feel comfortable discussing these feelings, even with their family. These preconceptions restrict individuals from freely talking about their personal struggles or reaching out to share their experiences with others, which oftentimes prevent them from seeking care.
Shame is central to the Asian American Pacific Islander narrative around mental healthcare as well. When compared to other racial and ethnic groups, AAPI individuals are more likely to avoid seeking treatment due to fears others would discover they are receiving care, or that their neighbors would think unkindly toward them. Preserving a familial reputation is another reported central reason AAPIs avoid seeking care, as the act is associated with bringing shame upon a household. This feeling is also shared by Hispanic/Latinx communities, especially among more senior individuals, who associate open conversations around feelings and mental health with embarrassment and shame for the family. As a result, many individuals wind up neglecting budding mental health problems that when left untreated, often result in more complex challenges down the line.
Systemic Discrepancies in Quality and Access to Care
While the rates of mental illness among white and BIPOC Americans are relatively on-par, the latter are significantly less likely to receive care. Mental healthcare disparities are perpetuated by limited access to care. While 16% of white adults access professional care for mental health challenges, that number is about only half (8.7%) for Black adults. Similarly, nearly one-third of white children who need mental health care receive it, but only 13% of those from underrepresented populations receive mental health counseling services.
When compared to the white population, BIPOC individuals are:
- less likely to have access to mental health services
- less likely to have insurance that covers the cost of mental health care
- less likely to receive needed care
- more likely to have a lower quality of care
- more likely to end their counseling services prematurely
Bias and discrimination in medical environments have long discouraged communities of color from seeking necessary care. Studies document the very real difference between care provided for these populations, including less accurate diagnoses, limited treatment plans, and worsened clinical outcomes. Personal experiences underscore these findings, with stories ranging from discounted symptoms to the inappropriate treatment of Black children, and frustration around misalignment of views. These experiences may mean individuals receive less than precise protocol recommendations and cause them to lose confidence in the medical system.
BIPOC populations are also impacted by a lack of insurance and the high cost of healthcare, which also limits their access to care. In 2020, nearly half of America’s 30 million uninsured individuals were people of color. Without insurance coverage, paying out of pocket is currently the only other way to access care. While financially secure individuals may pursue this, the average hour-long therapy session can range from $100-$200 – or about $600 per month – a steep cost for most Americans.
For additional information on discrepancies and ways individuals and providers can help overcome them, reference our blog about driving a more equitable future of mental healthcare.
Increasing Access to Care for BIPOC Communities
This Bebe Moore Campbell Mental Health Awareness Month, leverage social platforms and community groups to help raise awareness around driving factors such as discrimination, reducing stigma by normalizing mental health conversations, and working to increase access to vital counseling services. As it relates to stigma, the power of storytelling should not be overlooked. Story sharing helps combat any preconceived notions around what it might mean to seek care. The greater number of relevant voices that emphasize the importance of accepting and treating mental illness, the more likely a community is to normalize these activities.
Additional efforts to increase access to care, include:
Offering culturally competent care. Mental health organizations that hire with diversity and inclusion in mind are better able to attract a diverse array of patients who need care. By hiring staff that reflects the community in which you serve, you are better able to offer culturally relevant services that appropriately account for various upbringings, situations, languages, values, traditions, and beliefs.
Supporting SDOH efforts. Oftentimes, individuals are unable to prioritize treatment due to housing, employment, nutrition, caretaker responsibilities, or other concerns. By addressing economic concerns and providing support in other areas that cause stress, these high order preoccupations will recede, leaving individuals more free, willing, and able to seek care.
Understanding the cultural dimensions of identity. To many, race is central to personal identity. Nearly 75% of Black Americans say being black is extremely or very important to how they think about themselves. These unique cultural variables can have an impact on which courses of care and forms of support work best, which is why understanding cultural context is imperative for all mental health care providers.
Circulate individualized resources. There are numerous educational resources available online that are specifically designed to address the unique challenges facing various underrepresented communities. Here are just a few we like:
- The Black Emotional and Mental Health (BEAM) Collective is on a mission to reduce barriers to Black Healing and offers educational toolkits, wellness kits, video trainings, and more. For a complete list of resources for the Black community, visit Mental Health America.
- The American Society of Hispanic Psychiatry invests in research, education, and advocacy efforts for the Hispanic/Latinx communities. Latinx Therapy connects individuals with culturally relevant therapists, speakers, podcasts, resources, and more.
- For Native and Indigenous Communities, the Indigenous Story Studio highlights health and social-specific narratives to connect youth with supportive and validating resources. The One Sky Center focuses on suicide and addiction prevention, and offers treatment for mental health challenges and substance use problems.
- For the AAPI population, comprising nearly 50 unique ethnic groups that speak over 100 languages, individualized resources are extremely important to ensure support resonates with every reader. The Asian American Psychological Association works to advance the well-being of Asian American communities through research, education efforts, and policy changes.
To help support expansion of culturally relevant counseling programs and access to care, mental and behavioral healthcare providers need new tools to streamline time-consuming operational and financial functions. EHRs are key to generating efficiencies that free up administrative time so you can focus on supporting your clients. Our solution offers features designed to help keep your organization’s financial and clinical operations running smoothly, so you can focus on what you do best – taking care of your patients. To learn more about how NextStep Solutions is purpose-built to help behavioral health practices operate at their best, contact us today.