Mental health issues don't discriminate but it can be worse for minorities
I will admit that I lead a charmed life. I’ve always had everything I need, and I’m very grateful.
Except for the soul-crushing, debilitating depression and anxiety. That I could do without.
It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how great your life is — mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It robs you of joy, ambition, strength and sometimes dignity. At times I’ve been rendered almost useless by depression, having strength to do only the minimum, leaving my loved ones with a pile of responsibilities, which makes me feel worse.
Depression is not an easy illness to manage for anyone. This is especially true if you’re in a minority.
Perhaps it’s easier for me to cope because I don’t work outside the home, plus I have a strong support system and access to good(ish) mental health care. Many aren’t as lucky. People of color face more barriers.
This includes higher levels of stigma within a community, fewer mental health professionals in their area and fewer providers with a similar background or who speak the same language, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Lack of insurance (or being underinsured) and few culturally competent providers also keep people of color from seeking help.
Mental disorders are among the most costly health conditions in adults 18-24 in the U.S., yet only about 43 percent of people with a mental illness receive treatment.
The APA reports that among adults with any mental illness, 48 percent of whites received mental health services compared to 31 percent of African Americans and Latinx and 22 percent of Asians. Even though minority groups have fewer mental disorders than whites, the effects of mental illness may be longer lasting and more persistent, which means there’s a higher chance of disability.
These numbers are from 2015, so it’s likely they’re higher now because of the pandemic.
Mental health care is a mess. It shouldn’t be so hard to get quality care. I pay out of pocket for my therapist and psychiatrist and some meds, too. I have more options than most, but this is not about me, it’s about the people of color who are falling through the cracks. And despite what you might think, depression can be deadly. At the very least it’s disabling, but it (and other mental disorders) can be treatable.
Imagine how frustrating it is knowing that your illness can be managed but you can’t afford it.
We are doing an incredible disservice to those of color. We must advocate for change now because lives literally depend on it. We’re supposed to be the greatest country in the world, but if the poorest and most marginalized of our citizens can’t get basic healthcare, then are we really that great?
That’s a rhetorical question.
Here’s what we can do:
- Urge lawmakers, local and federal, to support better access to crucial mental health services
- Help eradicate the stigma of mental illness by researching, encouraging others to reach out and talking openly about it
- Advocate for people of color to be included on the staff or boards of mental health organizations
- Educate others on the disparity between whites and minorities receiving quality care
If you’re having suicidal thoughts, visit the nearest emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
For more than 20 years, Heather Loeb has experienced major depression, anxiety and a personality disorder, while also battling the stigma of mental health. She is the creator of Unruly Neurons (www.unrulyneurons.com), a blog dedicated to normalizing depression and a member of State Rep. Todd Hunter’s Suicide Prevention Taskforce.
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