Mental health disorders do not discriminate based on age, sex, race, or socioeconomic status, but there are significant disparities between how they are treated across different populations. Collectively, many people are misdiagnosed or unable to acquire quality treatment. While this can be the experience for anyone despite their race, statistically, Black people are disproportionately affected by mental health disorders and treatment providers have been largely unable to meet their needs. This can be attributed to a variety of factors and statistics supporting the sobering fact that while a Black person is just as likely as a white person to report mental distress, they are less likely to receive treatment for it.
Influences on Mental Health Treatment for Black Communities
Mental health disorders can affect anyone, but studies show that adult Black/African American people are 20 percent more likely to report experiencing psychological distress as compared to white people. Despite this fact, Black people are less likely to receive treatment for mental health disorders and are more likely to terminate treatment early if they do receive it. There are a number of factors that contribute to these statistics, and they must be examined in order to ensure Black communities have equal access to quality mental health treatment that is culturally competent:
- Stigmas: Although great strides have been made in changing how mental health is viewed and discussed, there are still significant stigmas surrounding it. For example, there can be a failure to identify when feelings of sadness or anxiety are symptoms of a larger issue. Stigmas surrounding mental health disorders can perpetuate beliefs that these disorders are not real, that they are a sign of weakness, or they are shameful. Talking to a therapist can be viewed as “airing dirty laundry” rather than working through difficulties. This can often lead people to expect that they can simply “snap out of it” rather than addressing the core of the issue. The combination of hesitancy, misunderstandings, and a lack of resources can make it difficult to even know how to find help when it is needed.
- Religion: Faith and spirituality often play a significant role in Black communities. They are heavily relied on as a source of strength and unity, but this can add a layer of complexity to seeking treatment. Many people opt to use religion as a means of healing and while it can be a vital component of treatment, it is not a standalone method of treating mental health disorders. Spiritual leaders and communities can be a great source of support, but they may not be equipped to provide resources related to mental health treatment.
- Barriers to accessing treatment: Black people have historically experienced discrimination and a lack of access to quality care in treatment environments. There is a history of misdiagnosis and misleading information that has contributed to feelings of distrust. This is further compounded by socioeconomic factors that can make treatment options less accessible. Black people account for about 13% of the United States population but make up a significant portion of high-risk populations. High-risk populations are more likely to experience trauma or violence, further increasing the likelihood of a mental health or substance use disorder developing. High-risk populations are also more likely to have inadequate insurance coverage which can make it difficult to receive quality treatment.
- Culture bias, racism, and microaggressions: Whether intentional or not, bias can greatly impact a person’s experience in receiving treatment. Black people are more likely to have mental health disorders misdiagnosed and not receive adequate care. Because less than 2% of the American Psychological Association is made up of people of color, it can be difficult to find providers who are culturally competent and able to address specific issues. Additionally, microaggressions and racism can be common experiences and can make people more reluctant to seek help.
How Lack of Adequate Mental Health Treatment Can Affect Addiction
Even if a person has access to treatment options, substance abuse and mental health disorders often accompany one another. Known as co-occurring disorders, both addiction and mental health disorders have their own unique symptoms that can negatively impact one another. The relationship between substance abuse and mental health is complicated and highly individual. In most cases, however, co-occurring disorders worsen a person’s overall health and can exacerbate symptoms of both conditions.
Statistics show that Black people are 20 percent more likely to experience mental health problems, are more likely to attempt suicide as teenagers, and they represent a significant portion of the homeless and prison populations. The combination of these factors can increase the likelihood of stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Considering the lack of representation and cultural competency found in treatment, Black communities are at a higher risk of not receiving treatment that is suitable for their needs. A lack of access to trusted resources can increase the risk of a person looking for relief in other ways.
The relationship between race, mental health treatment, and addiction cannot be easily summarized. Substance abuse, despite being a disease, is largely criminalized and stigmas surrounding addiction can make it difficult to access treatment. This is especially true for individuals who may not have access to insurance or other resources that can help them connect with treatment designed to meet their unique needs. The combination of all of these factors can make seeking help for co-occurring disorders especially difficult. This only serves to further marginalize those who already face challenges due to systemic racism and discrimination.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction or mental health issues, Nexus Recovery Services can help. We offer a wide range of therapeutic services in our Los Angeles outpatient setting, so contact us today to learn more about how we can help.