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Understanding Barriers To Minority Mental Health Care


Roughly 1 out of every 5 people in the United States experiences mental health and lives with a mental illness. Getting treatment for those mental illnesses is essential for a high quality of life. Mental healthcare can improve happiness, productivity, and motivation for people suffering from a mental illness. It can even increase life expectancy.

Unfortunately, getting treated for a mental illness can be extra difficult for members of minority populations. This means that significantly more people in marginalized communities have to live with mental illnesses for years or even their entire life. Understanding the barriers that stand in the way of minority mental health care is important in order to move toward more equity and inclusivity in mental health care. Here are a few of the major barriers in the United States: 

Insurance and Cost

Mental health care can be expensive and the cost is often the largest factor preventing minority groups from receiving treatment. A patient without insurance could be charged anywhere from $65-$250 per session. A patient with a severe mental illness could spend thousands of dollars per year. The average patient with major depression spends $10,836 per year on treatment. 

The high cost of mental healthcare can be difficult for everyone, but it is an especially large burden on mental health patients in marginalized groups. One reason for this is that the median income for many minority groups is much lower than for white Americans. 

In 2018, the median income for Black households was $41,361, and the median income for Hispanic households was $51,450. This means the cost of mental health treatment eats up a much bigger portion of the household budget than it would for the typical white household in America, whose median income is $63,179. 

A second major factor increasing the cost of mental healthcare for minority groups is a lack of insurance. In 2019, only 8% of non-elderly white Americans were uninsured. In comparison, 11% of Black Americans, 20% of Hispanic Americans, 22% of Native Americans, and 13% of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders did not have health insurance. This leaves much higher numbers of members of minority groups without access to affordable mental healthcare. 

Lack Of Paid Leave

Minority populations are less likely to have paid leave from jobs than non-minority groups. Paid leave would allow people struggling with a mental illness to visit healthcare providers during work hours. The problem of insufficient paid leave is especially pronounced in Hispanic populations, according to a 2019 report. Without paid leave from work, many mental health patients are unable to find time to seek treatment for mental health issues. Unpaid leave could also stretch budgets too far, especially when the cost of mental health treatment is already so high. 

No Child Care Options

Receiving treatment for a mental health issue can be much more disruptive to the lives of members of minority populations. Attending therapy weekly is a major commitment that might require having regular time off of work and reliable access to childcare. 

Access to reliable and affordable childcare is especially difficult for Hispanic and Native American families. A 2017 study found that more than half of Hispanic, Latino, and Native American families live in an area that has a severe undersupply of childcare providers. This leaves very few options for a parent who needs to travel regularly to a mental healthcare provider.

Language Barriers

Mental health treatment often relies heavily on verbal communication. When a non-English speaking patient looks for a mental healthcare provider in the United States, there often aren’t many options. 

One study found that Spanish-speaking clients feel less comfortable working with an English-speaking therapist, even if an interpreter is present. Having to use an interpreter can slow down the process and make sharing personal or emotional details much harder for a patient. 

Spanish is the most common native language in the U.S. after English. However, only about 5.5% of psychologists are able to speak Spanish, even though 13% of the U.S. population speak primarily Spanish in their homes. 

There are many other languages spoken by U.S. citizens. In fact, 22% of the U.S. population does not speak English at home. Typically there are even fewer options among mental healthcare providers for other languages than Spanish. 

Stigma

Despite the fact that mental illness is a very common thing, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. That stigma tends to be much higher among members of minority groups. A 2017 study found that Asian-Americans and Hispanic Americans had much higher levels of embarrassment, shame, and fear of not being understood due to a mental illness than white Americans. 

Stigma frequently prevents people dealing with mental illness from receiving treatment. If it doesn’t prevent treatment entirely, it often delays treatment. It’s important to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in order to provide mental healthcare to more people, especially members of minority groups. 

How To Help

The first step toward removing the barriers to minority mental health care is to spread awareness and increase education efforts. It’s important for people to be aware of the signs of mental illness and to be aware of the options for treating that mental illness. It’s also essential to decrease the stigma surrounding mental health by spreading awareness of how common mental illness is and how much of a difference treatment can make. 

As mental health awareness increases and the quality of education surrounding the issue also increases, the diversity of mental healthcare professionals will increase. With more members of minority groups in the mental healthcare profession, the language barrier issues will slowly decrease. 


If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental illness, you have many options for treatment. Reach out to a healthcare professional to see what types of treatment could help. Even if any of the common barriers to treatment apply to you, a mental healthcare professional may know about more affordable, more accessible, more convenient, or more inclusive options for you.

About the author

Jackson House

Jackson House

We built Jackson House because we realized there was a critical gap in our healthcare system and many individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems were struggling because of it. While there are many outpatient treatment options and locked, inpatient facilities there was nothing in the middle. Nothing to help people who needed around the clock care but wanted to receive treatment voluntarily, on their own terms. Jackson House is different. We provide clients with the level of care they need in a welcoming environment. When you walk through our doors, we will meet you wherever you’re at and help you on your journey toward feeling better.

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If you’re a provider and need to send us information on a client, please feel free to fax us at 619-303-7044. If you need help immediately, call our 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-766-4274. If you have a medical emergency, call 911. Jackson House is licensed by the State of California Community Care Licensing Division and certified by the Department of Health Care Services. We are also CARF Accredited. If you have any client or quality of care concerns, please reach out to us at (951) 331-5607. If your concerns need further attention, you can contact the Department of Public Health at 619-278-3700 or the Community Care Licensing Division at 1-844-538-8766.