July marks Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. According to Mental Health America (MHA), it was established as such in 2008 to bring awareness to the unique struggles faced by marginalized populations with respect to mental illness in the United States. The term ‘minority’ is understood most commonly as being linked to racial, ethnic, or cultural minorities in our country, but MHA has their eyes set upon expanding this term to include people from a wider range of underserved communities, such as the LGBTQIA+ community, refugee and immigrant groups, religious groups, and other individuals who are often times overlooked. Through making the term more inclusive, the need to address mental health problems with a distinctive lens while incorporating the various needs of diverse communities is highlighted.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides their own understanding of minority mental health issues via 2017 statistics focused on people of color (POC). They report that 41.5% of youth ages 12-17 received care for a major depressive episode, but only 35.1% of Black youth and 32.7% of Hispanic youth were given treatment for their condition. The administration points out that Asian American adults were less likely to utilize mental health services compared to any other racial/ethnic group. They state that 13.3% of youth ages 12-17 had at least one depressive episode, but that number was found to be higher among American Indian and Alaska Native youth at 16.3% and Hispanic youth at 13.8%. Finally, SAMHSA informs that 18.9% of adults (46.6 million people) had a mental illness. That rate was higher for people of two or more races landing at 28.6%, non-Hispanic Whites at 20.4%, and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders at 19.4%.
So, you may be wondering to yourself now, What is the “big picture” to be taken away from all of those percentages? Basically, they illustrate the fact that despite the advances that have been made in health equity in America, disparities in mental health care remain at large. In sum from The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), racial and ethnic minority groups are less likely to have access to mental health services, less likely to use community mental health services, more likely to use emergency departments, and more likely to receive lower quality care. Poor mental health care access and quality are contributing factors to poor mental health outcomes, like suicide, amongst racial and ethnic minority populations. It is undoubtedly a case of the folks who are most in need mental health-wise being left stuck at the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health (HHS OMH) recommends that the community keep educating itself on the importance of enhancing access to mental health care and treatment for minority clients and help break down other barriers standing in the way, such as negative views on mental illness overall. As a biracial (Black and White) therapist, I, Miss Stephanie, would also like to encourage you, with my whole heart, as the clients and families of Thrive Counseling Center to research how you can have a greater impact on your own mental health experiences or those of your POC counterparts. For additional information on how you can play out your part in helping the cause during this month, please feel free to visit: https://www.mhanational.org/minority-mental-health-monthand https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=9447