According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in five adults in the United States suffers from a mental health disorder. These mental illnesses can include a range of conditions, varying from moderate to severe and life-threatening.
There’s no doubt that mental illness is a widespread concern and there’s a societal push to improve knowledge and access in this area. What’s lesser known is how racial discrimination and mental health are connected, and what’s being done about it.
In this article we’ll look at how minority communities are affected by trauma and stress, how it contributes to mental illness and what you can do to access care.
Sources of mental health distress
There are various sources of distress for individuals in racial and ethnic minority communities. Here are some potential risk factors for the onset and continuation of mental health conditions.
- Generational stress: A recent and important empirically studied phenomena found that stress can be passed on from generation to generation. The journal Neuropsychopharmacology says that offspring are prone to residual effects of trauma and stress that are transmitted by gametes and the gestational uterine environment. Racial and ethnic minorities who faced extreme trauma and stress like slavery, immigration or war experiences are more likely to be facing the aftermath decades later.
- Higher rates of violence: A study in the journal Psychological Medicine states that blacks were more likely to experience assaultive violence than whites. Minorities may also be more likely to experience a war-related event, living as a refugee or having been a civilian in a war zone. These traumatic events may contribute to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other related disorders.
- Cultural expectations: Culture can be a beautiful and powerful force, but it can also perpetuate unhelpful norms, especially regarding emotional health. These beliefs may have held that seeking care for mental disorders is “weak” or “unmanly.” These and similar cultural views can prevent someone from seeking essential care.
- Stigma regarding mental illness: Even in seemingly forward-thinking and educated nations like the United States, there’s still a lingering stigma regarding treatment for mental health. An ideological emphasis on individual autonomy shames those who are unable to care for themselves. Thus, even those who do not receive pushback from their minority community may feel judged by the larger society.
There are many factors that may have a hand in the onset of a mental illness that are not listed here.
Racial discrimination and mental health
While it’s clear that there are many risk factors that affect minorities differently, the question still remains whether racial discrimination itself impacts mental health. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health set out to study the effects of race discrimination on mental wellbeing. It was found that cumulative exposure to racial discrimination has negative long-term effects on the mental health of minority populations.
The journal explains that racial discrimination occurs when the institutional, internalized or interpersonal acts contribute to poor health. This shows that poor mental health is not only linked to race and ethnic-related factors, but it is often caused or exacerbated by racism.
Care for minorities
There are several areas where care is lacking or incorrectly implemented for people of minority racial and ethnic groups.
The first step in treating mental health disorders is a proper and thorough diagnosis. A mis-diagnosis can result in treatments and medications for the wrong disorder, potentially causing harm.
Clinicians may intentionally or subconsciously offer labels that are inappropriate to the presenting concerns. For example, a study from Rutgers University found that black patients were disproportionately misdiagnosed with schizophrenia, as psychotic symptoms were emphasized over indications of depression.
Once a person has been diagnosed and throughout the course of treatment, it’s essential to recognize that racial, cultural and ethnic groups will manifest symptoms differently. Even in therapy sessions, an illness will present through the unique lens of lived experiences, and an openness to unique perspectives can help clinicians to better understand and gauge symptology.
Working across race and ethnic lines can be a challenge for professionals who come from different backgrounds. However, hiding from these differences has been shown to be less effective than engaging with them. Providing trauma-sensitive care is one of the first steps towards providing more equitable care for all people.
Minorities may face discrimination in both the content of care and it’s availability. Sadly,
minorities are also less likely to receive treatment for mental health disorders according to the American Psychological Association.
At High Focus Centers, you can find the care you need. A positive, nurturing and safe environment can help you feel at ease if racial discrimination in mental health has prevented you from seeking care in the past. Find the healing you deserve, customized to meet your personal needs. Call today.