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Combating Mental Health Care Disparities

In recent years, a lot of time and attention have been devoted to resolving racial inequities in the healthcare system. However, mental health care has often been left out of the conversation. Americans from underrepresented communities commonly lack access to proper mental health services and resources that are often available to members of other racial groups.

Ahead, we discuss the current state of mental health care inequities, barriers to access and ways to spark lasting change that benefit communities of color.

Stats About Mental Health Care Access

While it is not always easy for any American to receive access to proper mental health care in the U.S., studies show that it is even harder for individuals from underrepresented communities. For example, just one in three Black adults in search of mental health care receive it. Research also shows that Black and Latinx Americans experience more serious and crippling mental health experiences, compared to other groups, that go untreated for a significant period of time.

Additionally, research from the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health found that Black Americans experience more persistent symptoms of emotional distress, including sadness and hopelessness, compared to white Americans. Data from the same study also indicates that Black Americans living in poverty are more than twice as likely to report serious mental health issues.

Barriers Facing Communities of Color Seeking Mental Health Care

Many individuals from underrepresented communities continue to lack access due to long-standing barriers. There is no single cause for the gap in mental health care access for communities of color. Some of the most common barriers that individuals from underrepresented communities face include:

  • Prevalent racism and discrimination, which contribute to mental health issues and a fear of seeking medical treatment.
  • Socioeconomic inequities, which make individuals from underrepresented communities more likely to be uninsured and unable to afford care.
  • Language barriers, which prevent individuals from being able to communicate their health needs.
  • Different cultural perceptions about mental illness and well-being, which can lead to stigma about seeking help.

When these types of barriers prevent children and adults from getting the mental health care they need, it can lead to a number of negative health and economic impacts. Health-wise, a lack of access can exacerbate mental distress, leading some to consider self-harm or worse. Economically, when children and adults don’t receive adequate care, they may struggle socially and academically, which can hurt their chances for professional success.

Addressing Health Care Inequities

Not only does mental health care, as well as all health care, need to become more accessible, but it also must become inclusive and culturally sensitive to the needs of each community. There are a variety of steps that can be taken on the individual, organizational, systemic and federal levels to address these health care inequities. Since all of society benefits when people from underserved and underrepresented communities have access to health care, each person has an important role to play in improving mental health equity.

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Robert F. Smith is a passionate advocate for racial equity in all sectors, including mental health and health care. For example, he has provided funding to the Prostate Cancer Foundation to establish the Smith Polygenic Risk Test for Prostate Cancer to address health inequities in cancer treatment. The test helps to detect early-stage disease in Black men. Additional funding was also provided to erect The Robert Frederick Smith Precision Oncology Center of Excellence in Chicago to better serve U.S. veterans.

To learn more about the partnership and other important topics, follow Smith on LinkedIn.