You’ve probably heard about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts in workplaces, schools, and medical offices. The importance of diversity also applies to mental health care, where not all individuals have equal access to quality treatment. As society makes an effort to become more inclusive and to overcome social injustices, the importance of diversity in mental health has taken center stage. Below, learn important facts about the connection between mental health and diversity.
Mental Health in BIPOC Communities
DEI efforts must address mental health disparities in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities, who historically have not had the same access to quality mental health services when compared to the dominant population. Despite lack of access to services, BIPOC populations present a high need for care, especially when they are negatively impacted by experiences of discrimination, oppression, and generational trauma.
Consider the following statistics from research with BIPOC communities:
- When compared to other groups, African American men are disproportionately faced with social and environmental conditions, including poverty, community violence, and lack of education, which place them at risk of poor mental health.
- Only 41% of African Americans who need treatment for depression actually seek care, and of those who do, just 12% receive adequate services.
- When compared to Caucasians, Black and Hispanic populations are more likely to be uninsured, which is a barrier to receiving needed mental health treatment.
- Limited proficiency in the English language can serve as a barrier to mental health care for some Hispanic and Latino populations.
- Among Whites with mental health disorders, 40.3% initiate any type of treatment, compared to 23.9% of Blacks and 24.6% of Latinos.
- Immigration status can also influence mental health treatment-seeking; most foreign born Asians and Hispanics are less likely than those born in the United States to seek mental health services.
- In all age groups under 35, American Indian/Alaskan Native populations have higher rates of death by suicide when compared to both Blacks and Whites. Between the ages of 15 and 19, suicide deaths among American Indian and Alaskan Natives are over three times higher than for Blacks of the same age.
- Asian Americans are the least likely to seek mental health care. They are 51% less likely than White European Americans to access treatment.
Based upon the available body of research, it can reasonably be concluded that BIPOC and immigrant communities have a high need for mental health services, but in many cases, they are less likely to receive the care they need when compared to White populations.
Cultural Factors Influencing Treatment-Seeking
There is plenty of research demonstrating that BIPOC communities are less likely to seek treatment and to receive quality care for mental health disorders. Beyond lack of treatment-seeking, there are unique cultural factors that can serve as a barrier to quality mental health treatment for these groups. When cultural factors are not considered, BIPOC community members may hesitate to seek treatment, or when they do reach out, the treatment they receive could be inadequate to meet their needs.
Consider the following cultural factors that can prevent BIPOC groups from receiving quality treatment:
- Stigma associated with mental health disorders within a given culture
- Lack of cultural competence among mental health providers
- Difficulty understanding the American healthcare system
- Inability to find services in one’s native language
- Lack of treatment options that align with cultural values or beliefs
- Mistrust of mainstream mental health services and preference for informal sources of support
The Needs of LGBTQ Populations
There are multiple components to diversity, and when exploring DEI in mental health care, it’s essential to also consider the needs of LGBTQ populations, who have been historically marginalized and underserved. Currently, in LGBTQ populations, treatment access itself does not seem to be a major concern. Rather, the high rate of mental health disorders in this population warrants attention.
Consider these statistics:
- Members of the LGBQ population are 1.5 times more likely than the heterosexual population to be diagnosed with a mental health or substance use disorder.
- Transgender individuals are 1.7 times more likely than cisgenders individuals to have a mental health or substance use disorder diagnosis.
- Suicide attempts are more common among the LGBQ population when compared to the heterosexual population, and 40% of transgender individuals have attempted suicide, compared to 4.6% of the general population.
- Minority stress resulting from discrimination, expectations of rejection, and internalized heterosexism are linked to poor mental health among the LGBTQ population.
Just as indigenous communities and people of color have unique needs when it comes to mental health treatment, sexual minorities also face specific challenges that can worsen their mental health. We shouldn’t forget the needs of sexual and gender minority groups when considering the importance of DEI in mental health care.
The Bottom Line: Diversity in Mental Health Care Matters
There is plenty of evidence that diversity can influence a person’s mental health status, as well as the quality of care they receive. Race, ethnicity, and immigration status are one element of diversity that affects mental health, but it’s also important to consider gender and sexual minority status, which can undoubtedly have an effect on mental health.
Individuals who belong to historically marginalized groups may be less likely to seek mental health care, despite having a need for services. Life experiences related to discrimination, oppression, generational trauma, and minority stress can take a toll on mental health, while distrust, economic disadvantage, and fear of stigma can make it difficult to seek treatment.
To meet the needs of a diverse range of patients, it’s important to make positive changes. Some of the following recommendations can help us to promote DEI in mental health care:
- Make an intentional effort to increase the diversity of the mental health workforce. According to the American Psychological Association, 83% of psychologists are White, and just 17% belong to a racial or ethnic minority group. Furthermore, between 2015 and 2023, the APA expects that demand for services will increase by 30% for the Hispanic population and 11% in the Black/African American Population. While diversity has increased since 2000, we need to make continued efforts to diversify the mental health workforce, so that patients can receive care from those who understand their cultural needs.
- Offer comprehensive cultural competency training to members of the mental health workforce. Lack of cultural competence, as well as a lack of services that meet cultural needs, have been identified as barriers to mental health care among minority groups. It is critical for mental health professionals to be trained in the ways that culture can influence a patient’s needs and treatment preferences so they can develop care that demonstrates inherent respect for diversity.
- Educate communities to reduce the stigma that surrounds seeking mental health treatment. Minority group members may be fearful of seeking care, because they worry that they will be negatively judged or looked down upon by members of their own cultural group if they access treatment. Educational efforts within communities of color can help to combat some of this stigma.
Mission Harbor Behavioral Health provides outpatient mental health and addiction services in Southern California. We offer services for teens and adults, and we have a range of different therapy types, to meet diverse cultural needs. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule an appointment.