May 13, 2016

Mental Health: The Hidden Illness Plaguing Minority Communities

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being and impacts how we think, what we feel, and how we act. It affects how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. The concept of “mental health” certainly isn’t new, but it’s only just beginning to be discussed. Unfortunately, such is not the case in minority communities – where mental health issues, while especially prevalent, are rarely discussed.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH), African Americans are a whopping 20 percent more likely to report having “serious psychological distress” than Non-Hispanic Whites [1].

But it’s certainly just not affecting African American populations: the National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) cites American Indians (AI) and Alaska Natives (AN) as the population with the highest mental health issue prevalence, with 28.3 percent of AI/AN adults reporting living with a mental health condition [2]. Non-Hispanic White adults have a 19.3 percent prevalence; African American adults, 18.6 percent; Hispanic adults, 16.3 percent; and Asian adults have 13.9 percent prevalence [2]. As NAMI notes, mental health affects everyone, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.

OMH reports that poverty level also has an impact on mental health. African Americans living below the poverty line, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are three times more likely to report mental health issues [1]. Poverty can prevent individuals from accessing the care they need. NAMI compiled the following as hindrances to quality mental health care in minority populations [2]:
•Less access to treatment
•Less likely to receive treatment
•Poorer quality of care
•Higher levels of stigma
•Culturally insensitive health care system
•Racism, bias, homophobia, or discrimination in treatment settings
•Language barriers
•Lower rates of health insurance

Further, people living with chronic illness – diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and arthritis, many of which are highly prevalent in minority communities – are more likely to experience mental health issues like depression [3].

It’s also important to note that women already experience higher rates of mental health issues than men – two-thirds of all individuals with depression are women and eating disorders, panic disorders, phobias, and borderline personality disorders disproportionately or predominantly affect women [4].

The Society for Women’s Health Research is the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women’s and minority health through science, advocacy, and education. To learn more about our work on mental health, visit our website: