Mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions face chal­lenges, bar­ri­ers when it comes to men­tal health

Calhoun Times - - FRONT PAGE - Me­lanie Dal­las, LPC

While men­tal ill­ness is known to af­fect 20 per­cent of the over­all pop­u­la­tion at some point in their lives, some pop­u­la­tion sub­sets are at in­creased risk for men­tal health prob­lems. In par­tic­u­lar, racial and eth­nic mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions – es­pe­cially African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics – are more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence risk fac­tors for men­tal health prob­lems, and are less likely to re­ceive treat­ment, than whites. Yet a strong men­tal health­care sys­tem must en­sure all in­di­vid­u­als have ac­cess to af­ford­able, com­mu­nity-based men­tal health treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices.

Stud­ies of mi­nor­ity men­tal health by mul­ti­ple agen­cies over sev­eral years paint a bleak pic­ture of the chal­lenges faced by mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions of all ages:

• Ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices (HHS) Of­fice of Mi­nor­ity Health, adult African Amer­i­cans are 20 per­cent more likely to re­port se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress than adult whites, and are twice as likely as whites to be di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia.

• Both African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics are more likely to have feel­ings of sad­ness, hope­less­ness and worth­less­ness than whites.

• African Amer­i­cans of all ages are more likely to be vic­tims of se­ri­ous vi­o­lent crime than are whites, mak­ing them more likely to meet the di­ag­nos­tic cri­te­ria for post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der (PTSD).

• HHS re­searchers found His­panic youth grades 9-12 are more likely to at­tempt sui­cide than white stu­dents. Sui­cide at­tempts for His­panic girls, grades 9-12, were 50 per­cent higher than for white girls in the same age group in 2015. African Amer­i­can teenagers are also more likely to at­tempt sui­cide than are white teenagers.

• In 2015, the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion Pe­di­atrics re­ported there were more sui­cides among African Amer­i­can chil­dren ages 5 to 11 than among white chil­dren (this was the first na­tional study to ob­serve higher sui­cide rates for African Amer­i­cans than for Cau­casians in any age group).

There are many fac­tors that might be be­hind these sober­ing sta­tis­tics and which can also af­fect ac­cess to men­tal health treat­ment. For ex­am­ple, so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus is linked to men­tal health. Peo­ple who are im­pov­er­ished, home­less, in­car­cer­ated or have sub­stance abuse prob­lems are at higher risk for poor men­tal health. Of the nearly 34 mil­lion peo­ple who iden­tify them­selves as African Amer­i­can, 22 per­cent live in poverty.

These in­di­vid­u­als are at par­tic­u­lar risk for men­tal health ill­ness due to an over­rep­re­sen­ta­tion in home­less pop­u­la­tions, peo­ple who are in­car­cer­ated, chil­dren in foster care and vic­tims of se­ri­ous vi­o­lent crime. Adult African Amer­i­cans liv­ing be­low poverty are three times more likely to re­port se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress than those liv­ing above poverty.

Lack of ac­cess to men­tal health treat­ment ser­vices is an­other chal­lenge that dis­pro­por­tion­ally af­fects mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties. An anal­y­sis of U.S. Cen­sus Bureau data found that African Amer­i­cans were 7.3 times as likely to live in high poverty neigh­bor­hoods with limited to no ac­cess to men­tal health ser­vices.

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, African Amer­i­cans re­ceive sub­stan­tially less men­tal health treat­ment than whites. In 2011, only 54.3 per­cent of adult African Amer­i­cans with a ma­jor de­pres­sive episode re­ceived treat­ment, com­pared with 73.1 per­cent of adult white Amer­i­cans.

Over 70 per­cent of African Amer­i­can ado­les­cents with a ma­jor de­pres­sive episode did not re­ceive treat­ment for their con­di­tion. Like­wise, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, in 2014 non-His­panic whites re­ceived men­tal health treat­ment two times more of­ten than His­pan­ics.

There are, of course, no easy an­swers here. But aware­ness of the prob­lems and bar­ri­ers faced by mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties is an im­por­tant first step to en­sur­ing all our com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions – schools, hos­pi­tals, churches, so­cial ser­vices agen­cies and oth­ers – take the men­tal health chal­lenges of mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties se­ri­ously. We all must re­main vig­i­lant to the needs of mi­nor­ity pop­u­la­tions and be will­ing to help them find – and ac­cess – the men­tal health ser­vices they need, when they need them.

Me­lanie Dal­las is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor and CEO of High­land Rivers Health, which pro­vides treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use dis­or­ders, and in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in a 12-county re­gion of northwest Ge­or­gia that in­cludes Bar­tow, Chero­kee, Floyd, Fan­nin, Gilmer, Gor­don, Har­al­son, Mur­ray, Pauld­ing, Pick­ens, Polk and Whit­field coun­ties.

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