Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Diversity, Culture, and Mental Health

Diverse Populations and Mental Health

July is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diversity Mental Health Month, a time to appreciate the diversity among us and to focus on the unique mental health issues of diverse populations and efforts to reduce mental health disparities.  It’s clear we live in an increasingly diverse society, but how does that diversity relate to mental health and receiving quality mental health services?

Cultural background, including race/ethnicity and other aspects, can greatly influence how we think and feel about mental health and illness, how we experience symptoms, how we communicate about mental illness, and how and where we seek help.  Some people may be reluctant to talk about mental health concerns out of fear or shame, some people may seek help from faith leaders, while others may turn to a family doctor or a mental health professional.  (See the infographic from APA:  Mental Health and Diverse Populations.)

Extensive research tells us that ethnic and racial disparities in mental health care exist. A new report from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes that among adults with mental illness, whites, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and adults reporting two or more races reported higher mental health service use than black, Asian, and Hispanic adults. (See chart.)
Being aware of differences in the use of mental health services among different ethnic/racial population groups is critical for mental health professionals. That is part of what Diversity Mental Health Month is about – increasing understanding among psychiatrists about the influences of cultural diversity in their practices.

The SAMHSA report also looked at why people don’t use mental health services.  Adults across all racial/ethnic groups cited the same reason most frequently for not using mental health services:  the cost of services cost or lack of insurance.  Other reasons included:  low perceived need; stigma; and structural barriers. Concern about whether mental health services would help was the least cited reason by all racial/ethnic groups.

The top barrier to care, cost, may at least be partly addressed as more people gain access to mental health care with the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity Act. Many organizations, including the APA, are working to improve cultural sensitivity and to reduce the stigma of mental health, particularly among racial and ethnic minority populations.

By Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H., Director
APA Division of Diversity and Health Equity

This post is part of an ongoing series spotlighting diversity from APA’s Division of Diversity and Health Equity.

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