Anyone can experience mental health challenges regardless of their background.
However, a person’s racial, ethnic, or cultural identity can shape and exacerbate these challenges in varying ways and make accessing mental health treatment much more difficult. The Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 2008 to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face in regard to mental illness in the United States and the reasons why these differences exist.
Racism is believed to contribute to mental health disorders by creating negative stereotypes that members of the stereotyped groups internalize, resulting in lowered self-esteem. It may further contribute by enabling discrimination which results in lower socioeconomic status and poorer living conditions in which poverty, crime, and violence are persistent stressors that can affect mental and physical health.
Individuals from certain racial/ethnic minority groups have shorter lifespans and higher incidences of many chronic physical disorders. Those who have both a mental and a physical disorder (comorbidity) are more likely to have their mental disorder missed or misdiagnosed because physical disorders tend to be prioritized by physicians. Even if their mental disorder is recognized and treated, people with comorbid disorders experience more drug interactions and side effects, given their higher usage of medications.
Genetic and lifestyle differences
There is a growing body of research on subtle genetic differences that influence how medications are metabolized in certain populations. Similarly, lifestyle factors which include diet, rates of smoking, alcohol consumption and use of alternative or complementary treatments can interact with drugs to alter their safety or effectiveness.
Social Stigma and mistrust
Described by a U.S. Surgeon General’s report as the "most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and health,” the term refers to negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate people to fear, reject, avoid and discriminate against those with a particular condition. Stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness held by members of minority groups have been shown to be more pronounced than those held by Whites. And a persistent, historically based mistrust of the health care system on the part of certain racial/ethnic minority groups plays a role.
Lack of understanding
Lack of cultural understanding by health care providers may contribute to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental illness in people from other racial/ethnic groups. Factors that contribute to these kinds of misdiagnoses include language differences, differences in the way mental disorders present across populations and subconscious biased beliefs held by clinicians about certain groups regarding aggression, intelligence, laziness, and other variables.
Compared with Whites, non-elderly members of minority groups were less likely to carry private health insurance. Even among those with insurance, the cost of deductibles and copayments, lack of transportation, lack of childcare, and inflexible work schedules often prohibit mental health care. However, the role of Medicaid in covering mental health care has increased in recent years.
OhioMHAS, in alignment with Gov. Mike DeWine’s RecoveryOhio initiative, is committed to creating a system to help make treatment available to all Ohioans in need. One strategy is to prioritize the ongoing development culturally competent, evidence-based practices that are targeted to and appropriate for all of Ohio’s residents in need of services. Another strategy is to purposefully recruit a larger and more culturally competent behavioral health workforce that is reflective of the diversity in our communities.
Read tips for finding culturally competent mental health services.
Locate mental health services in your area.