Mental health is definitely one of the fundamental elements of human well-being, essential for a high quality of life and, oftentimes, daily life in general. Within the last few decades, it has gotten increased attention from the healthcare field and the general public alike. As mental health awareness programs are implemented in organizations and institutions worldwide, and voluntary therapy services are becoming more and more frequent, the availability of mental healthcare remains uneven. As with many other examples of societal and commercial benefits, access to therapy and other forms of mental healthcare is affected by one’s socio-economic status and, in particular, ethnicity. This paper examines the impact one’s ethnicity and race have on their access to mental healthcare. It also discusses the reasons the ethnically marginalized communities might in fact be in the greatest need of said services.
The aim of mental healthcare is to address a person’s mental health issues, with the disorders like depression and anxiety taking the central stage in the frequency of diagnosis. Chronic depression is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening disorder that requires a combination of psychotherapy and medication to manage it. Researchers have long attempted to identify the factors that facilitate the development of this disorder to design a potential prevention strategy. However, most of these factors are impossible to eradicate, and particularly for marginalized communities, with financial pressure and low social status being some of the most prevalent (Delgadillo et al., 2016). The practical effects of marginalization of racial and ethnic minorities result in an increased likelihood of them ending up disenfranchised and deprived of valuable resources (Becker et al., 2017). And since financial stress is linked to mental health issues, and ethnically marginalized groups are more likely to be comparatively poor, they are thus a group of risk.
And yet, ethical minorities in the United States, and Black Americans in particular, are consistently denied the opportunities and resources in healthcare that are made available to white citizens. Their physical and emotional pain is taken less seriously and more often perceived as an exaggeration or falsely attributed to unhealthy lifestyles (Assari, 2017). The problem of medical racism is an intersectional one, and overlaps greatly with other dimensions of social marginalization, like class and gender (Villatoro et al., 2018). Black women, in particular, are constantly belittled by the healthcare system, leading to them having significantly greater mortality rates during childbirth (Assari, 2017). Although mental healthcare programs operate differently from physical medical services, it is important to be aware of the systemic patterns that shape the field overall. The social bias of perceiving African Americans as more resourceful and emotionally strong is an extremely damaging one. It manifests in practical consequences of unfair barriers to access mental healthcare and, consecutively, higher suicide rates.
In conclusion, the issue of medical racism manifests itself in the field of mental healthcare, despite marginalized groups arguably needing the aid the most. Class, gender and other variables, such as a person’s city of residence, definitely factor into their likelihood of accessing the necessary treatment. Yet ethnicity and race remain the critical variables, contributing to the existing pattern of social inequality. Thus, the system must be examined for structural prejudices and adjusted accordingly to ensure equal mental healthcare provision to all patients, regardless of their social group.
Assari, S. (2017). Social determinants of depression: The intersections of race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Brain Sciences, 7(12), 156-168.
Becker, J. C., Kraus, M. W., & Rheinschmidt-Same, M. (2017). Cultural expressions of social class and their implications for group-related beliefs and behaviors. Journal of Social Issues, 73(1), 158–174.
Delgadillo, J., Asaria, M., Ali, S., & Gilbody, S. (2016). On poverty, politics and psychology: The socioeconomic gradient of mental healthcare utilization and outcomes. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 5, 429-430.
Villatoro, A., Mays, V. M., Ponce, N. A., & Aneshensel, C. S. (2018). Perceived need for mental health care: The intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status. Society and Mental Health, 8(1), 1–24.