Skip to content

Mental Health and Communities of Color

For individuals who belong to a racial or ethnic group, that identity affects every aspect of their lives, including mental health. People of color often experience a unique set of challenges and disparities that can have a big impact on their mental health. Part of working toward health equity on a broader scale is learning to better understand these factors and outcomes in order to address them.

Racial Disparities in Mental Health

Most racial/ethnic groups experience mental illness at a rate that is comparable (or sometimes lower than) than white people. However, researchers have also noted that due to cultural stigmas and historical abuse at the hands of healthcare institutions, Black individuals in particular may be less likely to acknowledge psychological problems or seek help for them.

What’s more, for people of color who do live with disordered mental health, their experience of it may be different than it is for white people. For example, consider the following findings:

Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) often experience disability as a result of mental illness at a disproportionately high rate.

Black and Hispanic people are more likely to experience persistent depression than white people.

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol abuse of any racial/ethnic group.

The historical and present discrimination that people of color encounter on a regular basis means that they are more likely to experience stress, trauma, socioeconomic disadvantage and/or poverty, and worse physical health outcomes, all of which can cause or contribute to psychological stress or mental health disorders.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which deepened existing socioeconomic disparities and led to widespread food and housing insecurity among many communities of color, has undoubtedly had an impact on mental health for people of color. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in a survey intended to assess changes in mental health conditions and substance use during the pandemic, Hispanic respondents reported higher rates of depression, suicidal thoughts, and substance use than white respondents.

The impact of BIPOC mental health disparities can have serious consequences for the lives of individuals affected. The American Psychological Association (APA) warns that children and youth who experience negative mental health outcomes as a result of socioeconomic factors or minority/immigrant status may be more likely to struggle with academic achievement, peer relationships, and civic functioning, all of which can potentially impact their long-term futures.

Mental Health Care for BIPOC

People of color also meet difficulties when it comes to accessing mental health care. For example, only one-third of Black individuals who need mental health care receive it. Barriers to mental health care for communities of color include cost and/or lack of insurance, language barriers, mistrust of the healthcare system as a result of historical abuse and discrimination, and cultural stigma against mental illness.

What’s more, even the individuals of color who do receive mental health care may not have their needs met. Due in part to cultural incompetence among providers, the vast majority of whom are white, BIPOC often receive poorer quality of care than white people, including higher rates of misdiagnoses. For instance, Black men are four times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than white men, while also being underdiagnosed with PTSD and mood disorders.

RADIAS Health provides person-centered integrated healthcare services to people experiencing mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Our services encompass primary care and behavioral health services delivered by compassionate, skilled health care and support staff. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more. If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!

Continue Reading