Racial Disparities in Accessing Mental Health Care

By: Brianna DAlessio South

A recent study has shown Americans getting treatment for a mental health condition is difficult for many, and may be even worse for young African Americans and Hispanics.

The study, published by the International Journal of Health Services, examined how accessible mental health treatment was for young adults and children based on their race. The survey was based how often people reported a mental health issue, and whether they were seen and treated by their primary care provider or a mental health specialist for their concerns.  The study found that approximately 5.7% of white children and young adults were likely to see a mental health specialist in a given year, compared with about 2.3% of Black or Hispanic young people, despite these groups having relatively similar rates of needing mental health care.

Multiple factors are likely at play, including increased stigma in those populations, an overall shortage of psychiatrists, and a higher likelihood of living in underserved areas. Stigma around mental health is relevant in different cultures and communities, especially in the Latino community. It is more acceptable to have a neurological or other physical condition, so many describe their mental health symptoms in physical terms rather than emotional ones. While one in five people is affected by a mental illness, lack of information about symptoms that would indicate a mental illness often prevents people from seeking care.  Often, they may chalk it up to a physical ailment rather than getting an appropriate mental evaluation.

Dr. Chad Lemaire, medical director of behavioral health, credits  Legacy Community Health’s ability to drive change in the community when  it comes to mental health care access in Houston: “At Legacy, we have built a robust behavioral health department that is integrated into our clinics to help meet the huge community specific demands out there. With much purpose, we situate our clinics in underserved areas, provide culturally competent care to the diverse communities that we serve, and strive to give the best mental health care to everyone that we see.”

But meeting mental health demands will take a village, all health care providers should sit up and take note that race plays a role in getting people the care they need.


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