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Thursday, October 8, 2015

World Mental Health Day: Tackling Stigma and Highlighting Racial and Ethnic Disparities

Yasmin Peled

Health Equity Intern

This week is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, and on October 10, health advocates around the globe will observe World Mental Health Day. These events draw attention to the prevalence of behavioral health conditions and seek to combat the stigma that surrounds them. Communities of color in the United States face significant mental health disparities and greater barriers in getting the treatment they need. Fortunately, one way the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is improving the health care system is by requiring most health plans to offer free depression screenings as a preventive health service. 

Communities of color experience significant disparities in access to mental health care

In the United States, depression and suicide are prevalent public health problems. In 2013, 16 million adults had at least one major depressive episode. Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause among those ages 15 to 34. The general population faces significant barriers to getting treatment for mental health conditions. More than 50 percent of adults with mental illness did not receive care they needed, according to 2014 data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 

The problem of access is even more profound for communities of color than for non-Hispanic whites: African American, Asian, and Latino adults are all roughly 35 percent less likely to receive treatment for their mental illness because of accessibility issues.

When mental health treatment is not accessible, the consequences can be serious. For instance: American Indian/Native Alaskan individuals are 60 percent more likely to die from suicide than any other racial or ethnic group. And Hispanic high-schoolers are almost 80 percent more likely to have attempted suicide than non-Hispanic whites.

Culturally insensitive care and stigma are among the barriers preventing people of color from getting mental health treatment 

People forgo the mental health care they need for a number of reasons. In general, , cost, not knowing where to go for services, and stigma are among the top reasons that people do not seek mental health treatment. For communities of color, a number of challenges present barriers to obtaining mental health services. Among these barriers, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has identified higher levels of stigma, culturally insensitive health care, and language barriers as critical issues.

Landmark federal laws, like the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act and the ACA, are helping to make mental health care more affordable. Coverage for mental health is better than it has ever been. Thanks to the ACA, most health insurance plans are required to offer their enrollees free preventive care, which includes depression screenings. And, health plans can’t charge consumers more for mental health and substance abuse treatment or services (in copays or deductibles) than they would for other health care services. 

In fact, today is National Depression Screening Day, an important day to spread awareness about this potentially life-saving service.  And to reinforce the message that depression is not a sign of personal weakness, or lack of faith.  It is a medical condition that should be treated as any other, like diabetes, hypertension, or asthma.

For more information on behavioral health, check out resources from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For more information on suicide, check out resources from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for help 1-(800)-273-8255.