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How to Improve Mental Health in Minorities

Historically, mental health has been overlooked in many ethnic and racial minority groups. Although they tend to have equal or lesser cases of mental illness than their Caucasian counterparts, minorities are less likely to seek care, which increases the risk for developing more serious, life-threatening issues over time. July, also known as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, serves as a time to recognize and address the challenges certain communities face in regard to managing their mental health.

Barriers to Care Affecting Racial Minority Groups

In order to address the mental health care needs of minority patients, it’s critical to first identify and understand the challenges they face. Some of these include:

  • Health Care Costs: Studies show that African Americans, Hispanics and some Asian populations have lower levels of health coverage compared to Caucasians. Although any individual is subject to financial strain, this issue disproportionally affects those from marginalized and low-income communities.
  • Language: Communication is a critical part of any doctor-patient relationship. When a language or cultural barrier exists, it can be difficult to build trust with a care provider and/or discuss personal health information.
  • Location and Transportation: There’s a shortage of mental health providers nationwide, and those residing in rural areas are especially limited in care options. It’s a problem often made worse by lack of transportation, which combined can discourage patients from seeking treatment.
  • Mistrust: The relationship between minorities and health care providers is strained. In the past, minorities have been mistreated, misinformed and in some cases denied basic medical services. This has led to a longstanding concern regarding physicians’ intent and capabilities.
  • Stigma: In some cultures and racial groups, acknowledging mental illness is considered a sign of weakness or cause for shame. Some fear it will impact how others view them, or believe it will lead to being treated differently at work, at home or among their peers.

Tackling Barriers to Care

Although barriers to care vary among patients, addressing those that specifically affect racial minorities is possible through some of the following tactics:

  • Changing the Primary Care Setting: By changing the primary care practice to evaluate a patient’s mental health, providers are better able to identify the need for mental health care during regular check-ups. Doctors can also discuss preventive care as it relates to mental health, whether it’s reducing stress, exercising, or simply recognizing possible signs of poor mental health.
  • Expanding the Network: Health care coverage must be inclusive of doctors, hospitals and clinics serving minority groups. In order to make quality health care more accessible, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan gives members access to the largest provider network in the state and funds safety net clinics serving the most vulnerable patient populations.
  • Increasing Affordability: Quality, affordable care is necessary to those with limited resources. In an effort to address this need in the mental health space, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation recently contributed more than $240,000 to programs providing mental health services to at-risk groups, particularly low-income families and seniors.
  • Promoting Diversity: Understanding different cultures, traditions and religious beliefs is an important step to build trust within minority communities. It’s also imperative to employ a diverse staff representative of multiple ethnic groups and language capabilities. It’s a show of solidarity that signifies an investment in not just a patient’s health, but their livelihood.
  • Raising Awareness: A key way to combat mental health stigma is through education and professional guidance. Mental illness affects everyone differently, and there is no one-size-fits-all diagnosis or treatment. With the help of a primary care physician, patients among every community can learn how to successfully manage their mental health for the long run.

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About the author: Dr. Kristyn Gregory, DO, is a medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages

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