eNewsletter - July 2020

Racial Disparities in Mental Health Care: How do we start to bridge the gap
Carla Poindexter, M.Ed., MSW, LCSW, CADC


The COVID-19 pandemic has both put a spotlight on and exasperated disparities in healthcare — an issue that has plagued the healthcare system for years.

Minority communities, particularly Black and Hispanic, saw a disproportionate loss of life from the pandemic. Economically, minority communities saw disproportionate loss of income and jobs as a result of the pandemic.

Disparities in healthcare, particularly in mental healthcare, has been a longstanding challenge that has gained renewed focus as a result of COVID-19.

In 2017, the American Psychological Association, released a recommendation to eliminate disparities in mental health status and care by utilizing psychological and behavioral research and services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

Through the years, several studies have outlined the disparities in mental health care.  A 2013 study, published in Health Services Research found that of 47,903 white, African American, and Latino adults age 18 and over, 40 percent of Whites with a probable need for mental healthcare pursued treatment. However, only 27 percent of Latinos and 24 percent of African American did so. A 2015 report from the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research found similar results noting that of those with a mental health condition, only 31 percent of Blacks and Hispanics and 22 percent of Asians received care compared to 48 percent of Whites.

The reasons for the disparities are varied, but often include a lack of insurance and basic resources such as sick time at work, childcare or transportation. Cultural differences, a lack of diversity in healthcare providers and language differences may also act as a barrier to care. In some communities and cultures, seeking out mental healthcare is viewed as a weakness and may prevent people from getting the help they need.

Too often, we see that those with limited access to care find themselves in crisis and forced to turn to the emergency room for help. In other situations, mental health conditions go undiagnosed and wind up being the underlying cause for incarceration or criminal charges.

This begs the question, what can we do to bridge the gap and remove the barriers to mental health care?

In 2017, the American Psychological Association issued a recommendation to eliminate disparities in mental health care through the use of research and services that are both culturally and linguistically competent. Some of the recommendations included:

  • An increase in services that are both culturally and linguistically competent to meet the needs of racial and ethnic minorities
  • Research into the complexities of the issues facing people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds and how that plays into mental health care
  • Partnering with racial and ethnic minority communities to increase awareness of mental health issues and the environmental factors that may place people at risk
  • An increase in funding focused on training clinicians in the area of linguistic and cultural competency

As clinicians, we can also partner with local educators and first responders to provide training on identifying the early warning signs of mental health conditions. By working with these community leaders, we may be able to provide another avenue for care to those who might not otherwise seek mental health services.

Training in cultural competency can also benefit clinicians and the hospitals or treatment centers they serve. Ideally, hospitals, through their foundations, would offer programs that would cater to the uninsured or underinsured.

As we mark National Minority Mental Health month this July, we know there is much work to be done to remove the barriers that keep people from seeking care. Together, we can work to find ways to address those disparities and provide care to the diverse communities we serve.

Finding treatment for patients. Linden Oaks can discuss available options at any level of behavioral health care (from the acute to chronically ill). If you know someone who would benefit from talking with someone about their treatment options, they can contact 24/7 Help Line at 630-305-5027 or complete our Assessment Request Form and one of our staff will contact them to assist.

We also offer Anxiety Aware, Depression Aware and Addiction Aware five-minute tests which gauge mental health and suggested next steps.