Post by Audia Fraley, HelpLine Suicide Prevention Educator
July is National Minority Mental Health month and we took a look at the challenges that ethnic minorities face in seeking help for mental illness and explore ways that mental health professionals can help overcome them. Ethnic minorities often face issues of double stigma, poverty, and barriers with securing culturally competent treatment. These obstacles often discourage minorities and stop them from seeking help for mental illness. However, mental health professionals can play a key role in ensuring that ethnic minorities overcome these difficulties.
According to Faye, ethnic minority groups often face double stigma (additional discrimination) when faced with the burdens of mental illness. Double stigmas are linked with the presence of prejudice and discrimination because of group membership combined with having a mental illness. Ethnic minorities that have a mental illness may also begin to accept the stigmatization (negative beliefs) which can result in reduced self-efficacy. One way in which mental health professionals can assist ethnic minorities in overcoming double stigma is to understand the overall impact of internalization of these beliefs on the ability to seek care.
Another challenge that ethnic minorities encounter when seeking help with mental illness is poverty. According to the National Office of Minority Health, African Americans living below the poverty level are 3 times more likely to report mental stress. Additionally, when mental health treatment is available ethnic minorities often receive poorer-quality care. Despite the commonness of mental stress in poor communities of color, access to acceptable mental health resources are limited. Mental health professionals can help to improve unequal circumstances through advocacy for quality service delivery and by providing resource education while focusing on the poor.
Cultural Competency is also a barrier that ethnic minorities face when seeking help with mental illness. Quality of service and diagnoses are often negatively impacted by the mental health professional’s lack of knowledge of the client’s culture. Mental health professionals are encouraged to actively seek opportunities to grow their understanding of diverse cultures through continued education and training. Additionally, mental health professionals should also carefully work with the client to include their culture into the treatment process.
Ethnic minorities often face additional challenges in seeking help for mental illness. Double stigma due to ethnic identity and mental health barriers may be harmful to self-efficacy. Increased rates of poverty limits availability to mental health resources and leave many to suffer in silence. Lack of cultural competency raises the chance of incorrect treatment and fails to address the true mental health needs of diverse populations. However, through the continued dedication of mental health professionals to understand consequence, advocate while providing resource education, and increase cultural competence through its combination into treatment plans the challenges that ethnic minorities face in seeking help for mental illness will decrease.
Corrigan P. The impact of stigma on severe mental illness.Cognitive and Behavioral Practice. 1998;5:201–222.
Faye, G., A. (2005). Stigma: Barrier to mental healthcare among ethnic minorities. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 26 (10), 979-999. doi: 10.1080/01612840500280638
NAMI-National Alliance on Mental Illness. (n.d.) Multicultural Action Center: Barriers to Mental Health Treatment by People of Color . Retrieved on July 23, 2014
National Office on Minority Health. (n.d.) Mental Health and African Americans. Retrieved in July 23, 2014