By Barrett White
TW: Mental health outcomes. Mental health is often overlooked in minority communities in the United States. Let’s change that.
Across the country, millions of people face the reality of living with a mental health condition. Legacy observes National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month each July to bring awareness to the struggles that minoritized communities in the United States face regarding access to and awareness of mental illness and behavioral health.
Compounding the already stark differences in mental health access that minority communities face compared to other communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it even harder for these groups to access mental health and substance-use treatment services.
No one community is the same. Different groups experience the gaps in mental health care in different ways.
For the Black and African American community, fewer than 10% of adults receive mental health services in 2019. That number is about the same for adult Hispanic individuals. Among Asian Americans and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, the number is even lower. Native American adults fare only slightly better with just under 15% of adults accessing mental health care in the most recent data.
“Minority Mental Health Month is important because it’s a special, designated month in which I work toward destigmatizing mental health by reminding my patients and their parents about the importance of prioritizing their mental health,” says Roma Bhatt, Senior Director of School-Based Health at Legacy.
According to the most recent data from the HHS Office of Minority Mental Health, suicide was the first or second leading cause of death for all of these communities in the 15 to 24 age group. And according to a study published by the CDC, in 2019 approximately 51 million Americans 18 and older reported struggling with mental illness. Although reported mental health conditions are not generally higher among racial and ethnic minority groups, persons in these groups are often less likely to receive treatment services.
“Minority Health Month serves as a call to action to better support the mental health and well-being of racial and ethnic minority communities,” adds Dr. Amelia Averyt, Associate Medical Director of Clinical Family Practice at Legacy. “We all need to recognize that these diverse populations face unique mental health concerns because of systemic racism, trauma, and the stigma surrounding mental health.”
“While I cannot speak for the minority communities,” Dr. Averyt continues, “I can take the time to listen and learn directly from them as I advocate for creating the culturally sensitive structures and support networks to address their unique mental health concerns. I can inform my own practice and relationships by learning more about the mental health concerns that racial and ethnic minorities face, and encourage friends, family, and colleagues to do the same. It is important to raise public awareness of these issues, combat the stigma of mental health issues as barriers to overall health, bolster mental health resources where they may be lacking, and identify the work that must continue throughout the other 11 months of the year.”
The theme for National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month 2021 is Strength in Communities. By understanding the unique needs of the minority communities that an organization serves, mental health care providers may better and more accurately provide the services that can foster lasting community change.
“It’s also a time I like to get authentic with my families and remind that that although mental health doesn’t discriminate against race, gender, or age, these factors and more contribute to disparities that limit access to help for some minorities,” Bhatt continues. “I am grateful that they are connected to Legacy Community Health, where they can receive high quality patient-centered health care. Let’s talk about mental health and normalize it!”