Minority Populations Face Uphill Challenges When Seeking Mental Health Care

Even before the pandemic-associated isolation, loss, and racial tensions emerged, minority groups have been among the more vulnerable populations suffering from mental health conditions. While biology plays a significant role, factors such as access to adequate education, financial security, and certain social issues such as language barriers and cultural differences are added stressors.  While all 50 states in the U.S. are facing a shortage of specialists who can support individuals with mental health needs, culturally and linguistically competent experts are even harder to find. That in itself has been identified as a significant issue faced by minority populations seeking care. Knowing or unknowing lack of sensitivity to a person’s cultural beliefs can lead to distrust and affect health outcomes. And then there is the world of provider discrimination, which can result in undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues.

Recommendations Based on NAMI Survey

The 2021 Mood Disorder Survey conducted by The Harris Poll for the National Alliance on Mental Illness found:

  • Hispanic and Asian Americans with mood disorder face greater challenges
  • Symptoms are not well-managed: 19% Asian Americans reported poor mental health, compared to 18% Hispanic, 9% black, and 15% white Americans
  • Stigma is a big barrier preventing people of color from seeking help
  • 78% Hispanic American, 77% Asian American, and 72% black/African American participants reported they had difficulty discussing their mood disorder, compared with 69% white Americans

A study by researchers at the University of Maryland found that young Asian Americans don’t seek professional help for their mental health struggles; rather they rely on their personal network of friends, their partners, and their religious community. Cultural norms and the stigma associated with seeking professional assistance for psychological issues are major barriers for this population. Study participants had the following recommendations:

  • Raise awareness and educate the targeted population
  • Increase culturally and linguistically competent mental health professional
  • Increase the number of Asian American counselors on college campuses
  • Develop a directory of Asian American mental health professionals
  • Educate parents
  • Involve schools, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations to share information and to be available as easy sites of access for support
  • Develop mental health education programs for youth

Specific Barriers FaceD by the Asian American Population

Shortage of Suitable Providers

Multiple studies and stakeholders have recognized the shortage of Asian American mental health care providers. Lack of culturally competent providers who can empathize with their issues is a challenge for seeking care. Asian Americans who are not very proficient in English or who recognize as LGBTQ might have a tougher time finding providers who understand and fit their needs. 

Lack of Access

Usage of mental healthcare services among Asian Americans is extremely low and they are 50% less likely to seek these services compared to the rest of the population. Factors such as language barriers, cost of care, and being undocumented are real issues that impact access for this subgroup.

How can this change? A few recommendations have been put forth:

  • Using terms such as “behavioral health professional” instead of “psychotherapist”
  • Access to bilingual, culturally aware mental health professionals
  • Developing culturally appropriate treatment plans, beyond counseling and medication
  • Take advantage of the resources developed by the HHS Office of Minority Health
  • Integrate behavioral health with primary care to address the issue of lack of specialists

These are just some of the proposed solutions. If you would like to share your thoughts or experiences around this issue, please reach out to Jim Sliney, director of patient outreach, at jsliney@patientsrising.org.

Additional Resources

  1. What to do in a Crisis
  2. BIPOC Resources:
    1. https://www.every-mind.org/black-and-african-american-mental-health-resources/
    2. https://samhin.org/ 
    3. https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Asian-American-and-Pacific-Islander 
    4. https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Mental-Health-Education/NAMI-Compartiendo-Esperanza-Mental-Wellness-in-the-Latinx-Community 
    5. LGBTQ Support: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/article/resources-for-mental-health-support/ 

Surabhi Dangi Garamella

Surabhi Dangi-Garimella, Ph.D. is a biologist with academic research experience, who brings her skills and knowledge to the health care communications world. She provides writing and strategic support to non-profit groups via her consultancy, SDG AdvoHealth, LLC.

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