Racial Justice Challenge Topic: Mental Health
The Department of Health & Human Services states that mental health equity is the right to access high-quality and affordable health care services and supports for all populations, including Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color to name a few. The Racial Justice Challenge will help you build your understanding of the prevalence of mental health issues for marginalized communities, as well as barriers to care, such as cultural stigma, accessibility issues, and medical racism. To help inform allies in the movement, we have provided a brief summary of facts to further build your understanding of mental health equity concerns, specific communities, and more, which can in turn be used to brief community members to help build more effective social justice habits .
BIPOC and LGBTQ+ Mental Health Disparities
Although mental health issues affect individuals regardless of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or income, due to deeply embedded structural inequities across economic opportunity, education, health care, and many other sectors, people of color and LGBTQ+ folks have higher rates of some disorders and face higher barriers to accessing care.
Racism and Mental Health
Our bodies carry the trauma that we experience with us. Microaggressions, discrimination, and witnessing or being a victim of racial violence can have a significant negative impact on the mental health of marginalized people.
Medical Racism and Misdiagnosis
Implicit and explicit racial biases, missing data, a lack of trust from patients, lack of cultural understanding by health care providers, language differences between patients and providers, stigma of mental illness and mental health care, and cultural presentation of symptoms may all contribute to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of mental illness in people from racially/ethnically diverse communities.
Mental Health Stigma
Mental health stigma has been used throughout history as a tool to justify violence, discrimination, and oppression against people marginalized because of their race, sex, gender identity, and sexuality. Bias was built into our mental health care systems from their beginning and these biases continue to show up and impact the health outcomes of marginalized people.
Trauma and Mental Health
Experiencing trauma can make individuals more vulnerable to developing mental and physical health problems and can directly cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Historical trauma, disproportionate poverty levels, community and state violence, racism, and discrimination place marginalized communities at greater risk of experiencing trauma and developing related mental health concerns.
Justice System Involvement
Mental and behavioral health issues increase the risk of justice system involvement, and these conditions are common among individuals in both the adult and juvenile justice systems, where BIPOC individuals are vastly overrepresented.
Mental Health Care Accessibility
Marginalized communities are less likely to be able to access mental health care and often have difficulty finding health care professionals of color or providers trained in addressing racial trauma. Barriers to care by members of diverse race, sex, gender, and gender identity groups can include: a lack of insurance/being underinsured; stigma of mental illness; a lack of diverse health care providers; a lack of culturally competent providers; language barriers; and a distrust of the healthcare system overall. Lack of access and other barriers to care only worsen mental health disparities.
Maternal Mental Health
Maternal mental health is a major public health concern. Maternal mental conditions in the postpartum period—defined as up to one year after childbirth—account for approximately 9% of the maternal mortality rate. Pregnant and perinatal women of color are more likely to experience many postnatal health conditions and are also disproportionately underserved by the mental health profession and relevant support services.