July was first named Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2008 and was created to highlight mental health resources and treatment in minority communities.
While mental illnesses can affect individuals of any race, ethnicity, or background, unique external and internal barriers to accessing care and treatment exist for minorities. A few examples of these barriers include lack of access to health coverage, discrimination in treatment settings and cultural stigmas surrounding mental health.
According to the Office of Minority Health within the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, roughly two-thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment. Minority racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. are even less likely to get help when struggling with a mental illness.
Divisions within NCDHHS, particularly the Division of Mental Health, recognizes Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and is actively participating in initiatives to improve mental health services for minority communities this month and in the past.
The NCDHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services recently collaborated to host a Suicide Prevention virtual town hall, where the featured panel touched on mental health disparities that exist among minority populations, particularly in terms of access to treatment.
Additionally, the NCDHHS Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities is working on an anti-stigma campaign for mental health services in minority and underserved communities. Research done for this initiative revealed that only about 20 percent of African Americans seek treatment for mental health issues, compared to 41 percent of Caucasians.
Income plays a role here because it influences one’s ability to access the necessary resources for care and treatment. Not surprisingly, African Americans living below the poverty line are three times more likely to suffer from psychological distress than those above the poverty line. Bridging this gap is one of the primary goals of this campaign.
Initiatives and informed discussions like those mentioned above help combat the stigma surrounding the topic of mental health. It is important for everyone to participate in the discussion to overcome the mental health issues minorities face.