Minority Mental Health: More Than a Mindset
Some health concerns in life are obvious and met with immediate attention: sudden chest pains call for a trip to the emergency department; a head cold or the sniffles get treated with a cold remedy from the local pharmacist. But other health concerns are often overlooked or disregarded for their apparent lack of physical ailments – especially when it comes to our mental health.
National statistics reported by the National Institute of Mental Health for 2014 estimate more than 18 percent of all adults in the U.S. had some type of mental illness in the previous year and that one in every five people experience a mental health illness in any given year. That’s an estimated 43.6 million adults and does not include patients living with substance abuse nor individuals without a fixed home address or residing in institutionalized homes. In the same year, 8.4 percent of adults – 20.2 million – had a substance abuse disorder.
Additional nationwide studies by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report at least one fifth of each adult age group experiencing mental health concerns did not receive treatment for their conditions in 2014; nearly half (46.1%) of adults age 18-25 did not receive treatment. In South Carolina, SAMHSA also reported that, during the same period, 55.5 percent of all adults with any mental illness did not receive treatment – up from 52.4 percent in 2013.
Studies indicate that such barriers have profound effects on individuals’ overall health and wellbeing as well as their utilization of primary health care. These mental health concerns affect all peoples – the young, the old, the wealthy, the poor – and all communities. Mental illness is associated with a lower use of medical care, reduced adherence to treatment therapies for chronic diseases and higher risks of adverse health outcomes; many individuals who are challenged with mental illness tend to also struggle with chronic illnesses such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease, leaving many battling multiple chronic diagnoses.
Addressing mental health concerns, however, involves overcoming a myriad of barriers, especially for non-English speaking communities and minorities. These barriers include communication problems, cultural differences, beliefs and taboos, racial and ethnic identity, higher levels of mental-health associated stigma, access to culturally-appropriate care, and the availability of culturally-aware staff in a health care system that is typically culturally insensitive.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental health condition is more prevalent in a higher percentage of white adults (19.3%) than most minorities, their access and use of mental health services is also reportedly higher with 11.3 percent of white males, and 21.5 percent of females seeking help. Amongst black adults, a reported 18.6 percent live with a condition, as do 16.3 percent of Hispanic adults. Only 6.6 percent of black males and 10.3 percent of females seek treatment however. And the numbers are even less for Hispanics; 5.5 percent of Hispanic men and 9.2 percent of Hispanic women seek treatment.
Addressing these mental health needs does more than help just individuals. Mental health concerns also ripple through families and communities. More than a third of students age 14 and older with a mental illness drop out and serious mental illness costs total $193.2 billion in annual lost earnings.
These issues reinforce the need for more support to address mental health care and the need to integrate behavioral health into primary care and patient-centered medical homes such as at HopeHealth. Such integrated approaches to health care include increased community outreach and the implementation of evidence-based interventions to address mental health care issues.
HopeHealth’s Making Connections aims to do just that. In the fall of 2015, HopeHealth received an award from the Movember Foundation, in partnership with the Prevention Institute, to conduct focus groups across five South Carolina counties: Aiken, Clarendon, Florence, Orangeburg and Williamsburg. The target communities include African-Americans, Latinos and veterans. These focus groups and interviews in turn are helping HopeHealth update its practices, increase preparedness for staff as well as review partnerships with current and potential community partners. Additionally, HopeHealth is working to establish a Latino services program to better respond to and serve patients during in-office visits as well as in local communities and neighborhoods.
Such programs help foster an environment at HopeHealth that promotes effective communications between our providers and patients to address mental health needs.