Mental Health Disparities Among Diverse Populations
Often depending on a person’s race/ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, many people face unique barriers to receiving mental health treatment. Some barriers include a lack of culturally competent health care providers, language barriers, high costs, lack of insurance, discriminating practices, and a more significant stigma amongst certain groups, particularly individuals who are part of a minority group. In many minority communities, mental health care is not being addressed often enough, and people that need help are experiencing serious symptoms that remain undiagnosed and untreated.
The disparities in mental health treatment are complex and systemic in nature. In order to address the disparities and work to make mental health care accessible to all, it’s important to understand what disparities exist amongst diverse populations.
Mental Health Disparities by Race/ Ethnicity
If you look at the overall picture of mental health illnesses in the United States, the majority of the population is White, which means White people have more cases of mental illness than any other ethnic group. Of the White people experiencing mental illness in the U.S., about 48% receive mental health services compared to only 31% of African Americans or Hispanics, and 22% of Asians. These numbers paint a clear image that certain ethnic groups are being underserved when it comes to receiving mental health care. Minority groups also report having more persistent symptoms. It’s important to note that while White people have a higher number of diagnoses, a lack of cultural competence in mental health care systems could be causing culturally diverse populations to be underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed altogether.
Broken down by certain ethnic groups, here are some factors that may be contributing to the mental health disparities:
In African Americans:
- 27% live below the poverty line compared to only 10.8% of non-Hispanic whites.
- 30% of households are headed by a woman with no husband compared to 9% of non-Hispanic whites.
- They are less likely than Whites to receive specific health care guidelines and are more likely to see an emergency room than actual mental health care specialists.
- Black people with mental health care disorders are more likely to be incarcerated than any other race.
In Hispanics and Latinos:
- Only 5% that suffer from mental health issues receive care from mental health care specialists.
- They are more likely to report communication issues than other races. Those who are not evaluated in their primary language are more likely to go underdiagnosed or mistreated.
- About 21% are uninsured compared to 7.5% of non-Hispanic Whites.
- Hispanic students in grades 9th-12th (highschoolers) are more likely to contemplate suicide than White students, but they are only half as likely to be prescribed antidepressants.
In Native Americans:
- They have the highest poverty rates of any ethnic group.
- 21% of single-race natives are uninsured compared to 7.5% of non-Hispanic Whites.
- They have higher rates of substance abuse and PTSD.
- They have a higher prevalence of substance abuse among youth under the age of 17 than other races.
- There is a long history of violence and trauma afflicted against Native Americans.
Mental Health Disparities by Gender
There is a vast spectrum of differences in how mental health issues impact different genders. Women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression while men are more likely to suffer from substance abuse disorders. There isn’t a lot of concrete evidence to explain these complex differences, but cultural norms are likely a contributing factor. In American culture, expressing emotions and seeking help have traditionally been seen as “feminine traits” while being emotionally tough and self-reliant have been seen as more “masculine traits.” An individual’s social interactions related to their gender can make a difference in how they view mental health illnesses and what level of stigma is attached to seeking care.
Overall, men and women have similar rates of mental health issues, but the types of mental health issues experienced differ by gender.
Other disparities in mental health related to gender:
- Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or PTSD than men.
- Women attempt suicide more often, but men are 4 times more likely to die by suicide.
- Women have higher rates of eating disorders.
- 1 in 3 women has experienced sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner.
- Women make less money than men.
Mental Health Disparities by Sexual Orientation
Individuals that identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions than people who are heterosexual. Members of the LGBTQ+ community often experience more discrimination, acts of violence, and trauma throughout their lifetimes. Many LGBTQ+ individuals have reported being stigmatized or discriminated against while trying to access mental health services. They also report having less social support than heterosexual individuals.
LGBTQ+ individuals are twice as likely to experience mental illness than heterosexual individuals and, more specifically, they are 2.5 times more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and substance abuse.
Other mental health disparities in the LGBTQ+ community include:
- Transgender individuals have higher rates of unemployment and poverty.
- Older individuals who identify as LGBTQ+ may experience a combination of discrimination for sexual orientation and ageism. They report having high rates of depressive symptoms like suicidal thoughts.
- Youth that are gay, lesbian, or bisexual have suicide rates that are four times higher than others.
People who are part of multiple minority groups often have even higher rates of mental illnesses than the statistics listed above. For example, someone who is both transgender and belongs to a racial minority group is more likely to attempt suicide than someone who is transgender and White, or heterosexual and Black.
Understanding the different disparities among diverse populations is important to be able to make a change in our current health care system and make mental health care services more accessible to everyone. While it is the responsibility of health care practitioners to improve their cultural competence and have more accessible and equitable services, all individuals play a role in improving mental health. As an individual, you can make a difference by educating yourself on diversity maturity. Learn to embrace people who are different from you and have open-minded conversations. If you suspect someone may be experiencing mental health issues, be kind, show your support, and encourage them to seek help.
At facilities like Jackson House, our team of experienced specialists and peer volunteers are here to provide any race, gender, sex, or sexual orientation equal access to personalized care. Your mental health is important to us. We’ll manage your treatment plan and help you along your journey to wellness.
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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 (888) 255-9280. 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.