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Mental Health Disparities and Black People in America

Updated: Jul 29, 2020



Disclaimer: I am not an expert in the experiences of minority groups or the disparities and oppression they face every day. I am a counselor and this is the result of my personal research on the subject in hopes to educate and help others with the information I find.



There are many different disparities in mental health that are upsetting and harmful: race, economic status, social status, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, age, etc. One could go on and on about the different ways people can be oppressed and the different reasons that impact their treatment. July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month and right now is the time to be talking about oppression and poor treatment of racial minorities due to the social climate regarding police brutality, unequal pay, and (important specifically to this blog) the disparities in the mental health diagnoses, treatment, and after care of racial minorities: specifically black people in America.


The disparities in the mental health diagnoses, treatment, and after care of racial minorities: specifically black people in America.

There are many different causes that take a part in the disparities in mental wellness and mental health treatment for African Americans, but in this segment we will be focusing on three major contributors: spirituality/beliefs, provider bias, and economic status.


Spirituality and Community

Spirituality refers to the qualities that inspire us to do what is right and good. Community refers to a feeling of fellowship with others. Spirituality, Community, and Spiritual Community have a strong impact on Mental Wellness and Mental Health Treatment. For example, a study was done by a Graduate Assistant at Vanderbilt University named Raven Alade. Her study was titled "Narrative of the Black Taboo: Suicide" and included many personal testimonies of African American survivors of suicide, survivors of suicidal thoughts, and family members of people who have completed suicide and their opinion of the Black Christian Community in terms of mental health and suicide. Many testimonies in her study recall their families and cultural communities relying almost exclusively on Spiritual community and leadership for help and guidance when it came to symptoms consistent with mental illness.

Spirituality refers to the qualities that inspire us to do what is right and good. Community refers to a feeling of fellowship with others.

Provider Bias

Provider bias is when the provider of care (in this case, Mental Health Provider) has a personal bias, which can be either conscious or subconscious, that affects the care of their client. There are different kinds of biases that can affect the care of a provider's client. Some are positive in nature and others are negative. Some are subconscious and some are the result of a conscious bias or even a conscious over-compensation. Regardless of the cause/bias, provider bias plays a role in the disparities in mental health diagnoses, treatment, and after care of African Americans.

Provider bias is when the provider of care as a personal bias that affects the care of their client.

Socio-Economic Status

"Socio-economic factors play a part too and can make treatment options less available. In 2017, 11% of African Americans had no form of health insurance" (NAMI). Socio-economic status is a compilation of income, education, and occupation and plays a large part in the inherent privilege a person gains from where they come from, what their race is, and other positive characteristics they have been afforded. Socio-economic status plays a part in racial disparities in mental health treatment because of the disparities in socio-economic status that already exist in America based on race.

Socio-economic status is a compilation of income, education, and occupation.

Each post over the following weeks will cover one of the major contributors to racial disparities in mental health diagnoses, treatment, and after care. To start a discussion about the disaprities now, we can look at some recent statistics that highlight what needs to be changed about mental health for black people in America.





"Approximately 30% of African American adults with mental illness receive treatment each year, compared to the U.S. average of 43%".


"Adult Black/African Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites" (MHA, 2020).


"Black/African Americans hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors. Black men are particularly concerned with stigma" (Ward, et al., 2013).


"Less 2% of American Psychological Association members are Black/African American" (MHA, 2020). This can be a contributing factor to the impact of provider bias on the care of Black/African American Individuals.


"In 2011, 54.3% of adult Black/African Americans with a major depressive episode received treatment, compared with 73.1% of adult white Americans" (MHA, 2020).


African American adults are almost 2Xs as likely as white adults to be diagnosed with Schizophrenia Disorder (Snowden, 2001).


African Americans are around 7Xs as likely as white Americans to live in high poverty neighborhoods with limited (or no) access to mental health services (Denton & Anderson, 2005).


40% of youth in the criminal justice system are African American. 45% of youth in Foster Care are African American (Office of the US Surgeon General, 2001).


These statistics aren't NEARLY even the tip of the ice berg.

Resources


American Psychological Association. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/advocacy/civil-rights/diversity/african-american-health


Denton, N. A., & Anderson, B. J. (2005). Poverty and Race Research Action Council analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The Opportunity Agenda. Retrieved from http://www.opportunityagenda.org


Mental Health America (MHA). (2020). Black & African American Communities And Mental Health Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/issues/black-african-american-communities-and-mental-health#8


Office of the Surgeon General. (2001).Mental Health: Cultural, Race, Ethnicity: Surgeon General’s Report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Snowden, L. R. (2001). Barriers to effective mental health services for African Americans.Mental Health Services Research, 3(4).


Ward, E. C., Wiltshire, J. C., Detry, M. A., & Brown, R. L. (2013). African American men and women's attitude toward mental illness, perceptions of stigma, and preferred coping behaviors. Nursing Research>,62>(3), 185-194. doi:10.1097




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