We’ve heard time and again that there’s a healthcare disparity amongst minorities in the U.S., but many mental health brands don’t really know what this means. To truly serve minority patients and healthcare consumers, as marketers we need to understand the facts.
Over 60 million Americans suffer from mental health conditions every year—many of which are minorities. Yet, studies show that Hispanic Americans and African Americans seek treatment at half the rate of White Americans (1,2)—but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones. Similar treatment discrepancies affect Asian American, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ populations.
Let’s dive into the facts.
Why do minorities seek less mental health treatment?
Minorities face more risk factors for mental health disorders than White Americans, yet they’re less likely to receive mental health treatment!
Black Americans are less likely to receive “guideline-consistent” care—despite having similar rates of mental illness to the general population. They’re also included less frequently in research, and less likely to be offered “evidence-based medication therapy or psychotherapy.” (2017)
Different to Black Americans, first-generation Hispanics actually face a lower risk of most psychiatric disorders compared to non-Hispanic Whites. You may think that Hispanics seek mental health care less because they experience mental illness less. But this isn’t the case.
Older Hispanics and Hispanic youth still face more risk factors, however. Both are “extremely vulnerable to psychological stresses associated with immigration and acculturation.” (2017).
And Black and Hispanic Americans with symptoms of mental illness are less likely to seek treatment than their non-Hispanic White counterparts. (1,2)
For instance, more than 16 percent of those who identify as Black or African American were diagnosed with a mental health condition in 2018 alone, and it’s estimated that only one in three of those individuals received mental health care.
And in 2018, 56.8% of Hispanic young adults 18-25 and 39.6% of adults 26-49 with serious mental illness did NOT receive treatment. (Mental Health America)
Annual treatment rates among U.S. adults with any mental illness, by demographic group:
51.8% Non-Hispanic White
37.1% Non-Hispanic Black or African-American
43.0% Non-Hispanic mixed/multiracial
35.1% Hispanic or Latino
Disparities faced by minorities come from barriers like “lack of access to healthcare, lower rates of medical coverage, cultural insensitivity of providers, bias and discrimination in the delivery of care, language barriers, and higher levels of stigma.”
Ultimately, the data shows us that minorities don’t seek treatment for mental health for three core reasons:
- Socioeconomic factors
- Cultural stigmas in our own communities
- Culturally incompetent providers
Access and socioeconomic factors
What is the most significant health barrier for minorities?
It’s hard to measure which barrier is most significant, but we certainly know which is the most difficult to overcome: socioeconomic factors like poverty and immigration status.
Poverty makes you more likely to become mentally ill—while simultaneously making it more difficult to access treatment.
Black and African American people living below poverty are twice as likely to report serious psychological distress than those living over 2x the poverty level.
And poverty disproportionately affects Hispanic populations in the U.S. too, with 14.8% of Hispanic families living below the poverty line in 2020 compared to 7.3% for non-Hispanic Whites in 2019. (1,2)
Undocumented immigrants have no access to insurance. And even those who are registered have limited insurance options, especially if they’re still going through the often long and stringent immigration process. Often, that immigration process can negatively affect their mental health.
Immigrants from Hispanic and other communities who face immigration challenges are often at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, suicide, and related stressors due to their experiences with acculturation or deportation fears.Source: APA
And new immigrants rarely have access to resources to deal with those effects, which only compounds the issue.
Without insurance, mental healthcare is a virtual impossibility for minority groups. And insurance barriers caused by poverty and immigration status severely limit the access many minorities have to mental health professionals.
And though the Affordable Care Act’s implementation has helped close the gap, 11.5 percent of Black and African Americans were still uninsured in 2018 versus only 7.5 percent of non-Hispanic Whites.
Even when minorities overcome the obstacles of poverty and immigration, they are still vulnerable to cultural and language barriers when seeking treatment.
Hispanic patients report communication more often with health providers, and studies have found:
- Bilingual patients are evaluated differently in English as opposed to Spanish
- Hispanics are more frequently undertreated
And African Americans also face a communication barrier. One study found that “physicians engaged in 33% less patient-centered communication with African American patients than with White patients.”
As a health & wellness agency composed primarily by women of color, we’re well acquainted with the cultural stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment.
In Hispanic culture, seeking mental health treatment can be seen as weak or shameful, often causing the family to label one as “crazy.”
And though religion is a protective factor for mental health amongst hispanics, it can also contribute to the stigma. Family members may simply suggest turning to spirituality instead of medicine. Or, they may see mental illness as stemming from sinfulness or lack of faith. (MH National)
The stigmas in Black and Hispanic communities may have different cultural origins, but they sure have similar effects.
Black and African Americans also “hold beliefs related to stigma, psychological openness, and help-seeking, which in turn affects their coping behaviors,” especially Black American men. (MH National)
How do we combat cultural stigmas against mental health treatment?
Here at T3E, our agency is filled with both minorities and mental health aficionados—and we’ve learned that therapy is a simple but powerful mental health treatment.
Some of our leading ladies had a few words of encouragement. Sometimes we just need a reminder that therapy is powerful, and mental health treatment usually pays off in the end.
As mental health brands and marketers, let’s remember the power in amplifying the voices of minority mental health advocates. In an environment where cultural stigma is pushing back, hearing the stories of people who look and sound like us can make all the difference.
Finding culturally competent providers
It’s important for healthcare providers to understand their patients—especially when it comes to mental health.
A lack of cultural understanding by your mental health provider can “contribute to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental illness in people from racially/ethnically diverse populations.” (APA 2017)
Some innovative brands combat this by providing mental health services focused on cultural competence. Alma‘s providers commit to “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and Real, founded by women of color, provides culturally competent care with their team of diverse clinicians. But we still have a long way to go.
Black and Hispanic Americans often feel better with mental health professionals that look like them or have a similar background. This is only natural, since we feel these professionals will better understand our experiences.
How can you offer culturally competent mental health treatment? It’s as simple as hiring diverse clinicians and connecting patients to providers who understand that culture can affect the presentation of symptoms.
As a majority-minority agency, we can help you navigate the cultural differences that come into play when connecting with your minority audience. If your mental health brand is looking to increase its cultural competence, connect with us today.