Mental illness affects individuals of all genders, creeds, sexual orientations and races. Unfortunately, not all of these individuals receive the same level of care.
Race is a strong predictor of who will — and who won’t — receive proper treatment for their mental illness, both for men and for women. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the adults who were most likely to use mental health services within a year were individuals of mixed race (17.1 percent) followed by white adults (16.6 percent) and American Indian or Alaska Native adults (15.6 perfect). Black, Hispanic and Asian adults received mental health services at the lowest rates at 8.6 percent, 7.3 percent and 4.9 percent respectively.
The use of prescription medication to treat mental health concerns also differed among different races. White adults were the most likely to use psychiatric medication (14.4 percent), followed by adults who reported two or more races (14.1 percent) and adults of American Indian or Alaska Native descent (13.6 percent). Black (6.5 percent), Hispanic (5.7 percent) and Asian adults (3.1 percent) received the lowest levels of prescription medication.
Why the disparity?
Why is there such a gap in mental health care, especially for people of color? (It should be noted that the term “people of color” refers to not only individuals who are black, but any member of a racial minority.) The most common reason cited is a lack of insurance coverage as well as a high cost of services. Stigma is another reason, as well as an overall poorer quality of service once they actually do receive mental health care.
One of the reasons why minorities (including minority women) receive poorer treatment may be because many doctors use a one-size-fits-all treatment method. Most studies in psychology — including those that evaluate treatment methods — are conducted on college students, a class of individuals who are hardly representative of the entire country. (Critics of these kinds of studies call them WEIRD — Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic.) When clinicians use the metrics of one population to treat all others, some individuals are bound to receive subpar treatment.
Making sure everyone gets high-quality treatment
How can we change this? Researchers have found that culturally adapted mental health interventions are more effective for racial and ethnic minorities than traditional psychotherapy. In other words, clinicians must understand not only patients’ medical history, but also their personal history. Part of that history includes each patient’s race, as well as any associated cultural factors.
The best way to help a patient — regardless of whether or not she’s a minority — is to treat her like an individual person with her own unique background. Clinicians may not be able to reduce the overall cost of mental health care, but they can do what they can to treat each patient’s history with dignity and respect.
At Sovereign Health of Arizona, we treat all of our patients as individuals — not a diagnosis. Sovereign Health’s mental health treatment program uses both technology and counseling to identify each patient’s neurological state as well as any lifestyle issues that could be hampering her path to sobriety. Our clinicians strive to educate not only patients but also loved ones about each condition, doing what we can to reduce mental health stigma and provide the best quality of care possible.
About the author
Courtney Lopresti, M.S., is a senior staff writer for the Sovereign Health Group where she uses her scientific background to write online blogs and articles for a general audience. At the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned her Master’s in neuroscience, she used functional neuroimaging to study how the human cerebellum contributes to language processing. In her spare time, she writes fiction, reads Oliver Sacks and spends time with her two cats and bird. Courtney is currently located in Minneapolis. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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