In America, equal ability doesn’t always translate to equal access. While anyone can walk into an emergency room, doctor’s office, or therapist’s lounge, not everyone has the information, support, or means to do so. But depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and substance abuse don’t draw lines along race. Mental illnesses affect people of every color, creed, and nationality.
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month throughout the American healthcare community. This month, UAB Medical West encourages everyone (no matter their race or heritage) to invest in their mental health and happiness.
But why does such an awareness month exist at all? What are the barriers to mental healthcare faced by minority communities and how can we overcome them?
Minority Mental Health Struggles
For the purposes of mental health awareness, the term “minorities” can describe any community or individual that’s overlooked in the application of mental healthcare resources. Some at-risk populations include:
- African Americans
- Native Americans/Alaska Natives
- Asian Americans
- Pacific Islanders
Within these communities, awareness of mental health struggles and resources may fall short of dispelling stigmas or encouraging action. But why are these communities at greater risk from mental illnesses?
What Causes Unequal Access to Mental Health Resources?
Minority populations are at special risk of mental health episodes, suicide, and substance abuse for numerous reasons. On average, the causes of unequal access may include:
- Lack of resources
- Unawareness of resources
- Cultural stigma for seeking help
- Lack of affordable resources
- Prejudice or discrimination
- Lack of transportation
- Disregard for mental health services
It’s easy to see how one or more of these barriers can create a cruel loop. Those who can afford and desire help may not have transportation. Those who do have transportation may not believe in the helpfulness of mental health services. Finally, when those who do have the means, transportation, and desire to seek help set about finding that help, they may be disregarded or turned away prematurely by prejudiced providers. This cycle can have lethal consequences.
What Are The Consequences Of Unequal Access?
Taking the African American community as an example, we can see that a lack of equal access to mental health resources can literally cost lives.
In 2019 alone, the US Department of Health and Human Services found that suicide was the 2nd leading cause of death among Black Americans between the ages of 15 and 24. Furthermore, Black, high-school-aged females were 60% more likely to attempt suicide than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.
Of course, not all consequences of mental health are fatal. Black Americans below the poverty line are twice as likely to report severe mental health episodes when compared to those who make twice as much income. Living with untreated mental illnesses can result in increased poverty, violence, substance abuse, and legal trouble, further worsening an already bad situation.
What Can You Do to Increase Mental Health Awareness?
Increasing awareness and offering a helping hand within minority communities can save lives. The US Department of Health and Human Services offers these resources as a start to raising awareness and helping those in need. Ultimately, changing the stigmas surrounding mental healthcare and advocating for resources in your community are among the best ways to make a difference. To decrease stigmas and help out those in need, you can:
- Examine your attitudes and the attitudes of those around you concerning mental health
- Challenge stigmatizing language in reference to mental health
- Watch for signs of mental illness in loved ones and encourage them to seek help rather than discourage
- Offer what resources you can spare (a ride, money for bus fare to a mental health appointment, resources, information)
- Advocate for resources within your community at the local level
UAB Medical West Can Help
UAB Medical West has facilities in or near your community. We proudly serve all residents of central Alabama, including Hueytown, Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, Vance, and others. To find the nearest facility to you, browse our list of locations. Furthermore, if you or someone you know has mentioned suicide or self-harm, or if you suspect they may be contemplating it, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.
How Can You Improve Minority Mental Health Awareness?
Mental health isn’t unusual, wrong, or pointless. In fact, by taking steps to improve mental health awareness in your community, chances are good that you could be saving a life. To learn more about mental health resources in your community, or to schedule an appointment with one of our mental health professionals, contact us today. No matter how hopeless it seems, you have friends, you have help, and you have resources.