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Why Are Minority Groups Statistically Less Likely to Seek Help for Mental Health Problems?
According to a study released in May 2018, black Californians are more likely to suffer with mental health issues than other ethnicities, but are also less likely to seek the care they require.
The study revealed a connection between mental health issues left unaddressed and recurring work absences, which in turn negatively impacts the economic health of these individuals and their families. This connection corresponds more with communities of color than with white people, and also disproportionately affects women.
This study only looks at a section of society within the U.S. However, it is certainly fairly telling that three prominent minority groups — blacks, Latinos and women — may be less likely to get help for mental health problems across the world, and it’s important that we start considering why this might be happening.
The study “Monitoring Californians’ Mental Health” — conducted by Rand Corp, Santa Monica — hinges on the idea that in order to make effective policy decisions and design the best programs for citizens, public health needs to be better understood. The best way to do so is through population surveillance and data gathering.
The California Health Interview Survey (CHIS) is a surveillance resource which continuously interviews a sample of California’s population and then goes on to assess the respective mental health of groups of people using population surveillance measures.
The report studied this CHIS data between 2011 and 2013, which included 63,659 adults and was then weighted to represent the entire community of Californian adults. As a result, around 50 percent of the sample was female and 78 percent included white or Latinos. Data was collected through telephone surveys, more often than not via household lines.
One of the measures against which the participants were studied was the level of psychological distress, denoted by the Kessler-6 (K-6) scale, whereby a score of 13 or higher signified a participant suffered serious psychological distress.
Respondents were then asked if they had sought out care from a primary care physician or general practitioner for mental health problems and, finally, how much their work was impaired by this. Finally, attempted suicide rates were measured.
The study showed that black and Latino respondents had disproportionately higher occurrences of serious psychological distress (five percent) than white Californians (three percent), with Asian Californians (two percent) experiencing even less serious distress. Women had higher rates (four percent of women against three percent of men).
Nicole Eberhart, the behavioral scientist at Rand Corp who was leading the study, found that mental health problems were the cause of 12 percent of blacks missing four days or more of work every year, versus 6.1 percent of Asians, 7.9 percent for whites and 9.4 percent for Latinos.
The fact that blacks and Latinos are so much more likely to suffer from severe psychological distress could have serious implications for their respective communities to earn income and remain employed when afflicted with mental health issues.
From the results, women also are more likely than men to go without required mental health support, which puts them at risk of losing their jobs. Therefore, African-American women seem to be at even worse risk of this.
According to Janette Robinson Flint at Black Women for Wellness, an LA-based NGO geared towards helping women and girls access the best health services available, black women are facing a lot of stigma and shame around mental health. As a result, they bury their needs and aim for resilience to make money and move forward. However, suppressed shame, anxiety and guilt lead to anxiety attacks and even heart attacks.
What is important to note about black women is that increased rates of serious psychological distress can be attributed to discrimination alongside the after-effects of violent crime (direct or indirect), both of which can be triggers for depression, anxiety disorders and mental stress. An example was the recent shooting death of Hannah Bell, a student of just 15 years of age, who was shot as she ordered food with her mother in LA. Naturally, this will lead to extreme trauma for the family, community and other young girls.
Robinson Flint draws the conclusion that people will take that mental trauma or anxiety, bury it and go to work when in fact they’re not quite capable of working. Adding to that the health insurance landscape, which can be daunting and prohibitively expensive, and that mental health services are lacking in general in the U.S., and it’s understandable why people in certain groups are not seeking out help.
The Rand study also revealed that Latinos are less likely than Asians and whites to seek out mental health support and, consequently, are more likely to have absences from work. And there are similar reasons behind Latinos remaining reluctant to find necessary mental health support.
However, one issue unique to the group is causing mental strain, and that’s the ongoing fear of deportation for immigrant communities. Steven Lopez, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, launched an awareness campaign three years ago to help Latino families recognize signs of psychosis and get help before any major fallout.
So far, 45 families have been helped by this campaign, called La Clave, and the feedback from people is generally that they did not recognize their son or daughter had an illness. As a result, if you don’t know to question mental health, you don’t think about even getting the help you need. Education from early ages could be key here to counteract the lack of awareness.
Surveys like those conducted by CHIS, which lead to studies such as the Rand Corp study on mental health, are critically important in the tracking, assessment and understanding of the population’s mental health status. Furthermore, the results can help inform policy decision-makers and NGOs on how best to help the communities or groups or genders that are disproportionately affected by mental health and reveal insights such as the impact on economic participation and productivity.