Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on a person’s color, gender or identity, but these factors can make it more difficult for an individual to receive care. Without adequate treatment, mental health conditions will likely continue and perhaps even worsen. To help people in minority groups get the mental health care they need, the U.S. House of Representatives named July “National Minority Mental Health Month” in 2008.
The main goals of National Minority Mental Health Month are to improve access to mental health services and treatment, and to promote awareness of mental health and mental illnesses, especially in the minority populations.
Nearly one in five adults in the United States has a mental health condition, according to the National Institute on Mental Health. While anyone can experience a mental illness, Americans in minority groups are more likely to experience the risk factors that contribute to mental health disorders.
These risk factors include inaccessibility of high quality mental health care services, discrimination, cultural stigma regarding mental health care, and overall lack of awareness about mental health.
The purpose of Minority Mental Health Month is to bring awareness to mental health among minorities, including African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans. The nation’s leading non-profit mental health organization, Mental Health America, is working to expand the definition to include people from other marginalized groups, such as those who may identify as LGBTQ, refugees and immigrants, religious groups and others.
People in certain minority groups have higher rates of mental health issues than do others. For example, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that American Indian/Alaska Native populations have disproportionately higher rates of mental health problems. Other groups, such as African Americans, have similar rates of mental health disorders but ultimately receive poorer access to mental health services, prescriptions, and outpatient care. African Americans are also less likely to be offered psychotherapy or evidence-based medication therapy for the treatment of their mental illness.
The consequences of mental illnesses in minorities can be long lasting. While African Americans and Hispanics have lower rates of depression, for example, depression in blacks and Hispanics is likely to be more persistent. The APA also notes that among adults with any mental illness in 2015, 48 percent of whites received mental health services, compared with 22 percent of Asian Americans and 31 percent of blacks and Hispanics.
Many organizations participate in National Minority Mental Health Month each July. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) features the WhyCare? Campaign to bring awareness to the importance of care in the treatment of mental health. The campaign also highlights the importance of care when it comes to everyday relationships with people who have mental health issues. Demonstrating how and why people care about those with mental illness helps raise awareness about the importance of treatment. Simply caring can have a life-changing effect on those with mental health issues.
Mental Health America celebrates National Minority Mental Health Month by asking the public to share videos, pictures, notes, poems and even graphics on social media with the hashtag #DepthOfMyIdentity. The social media posts should help others understand the life experiences, stereotypes, negative preconceptions and biases that can affect mental health and access to treatment. Through their posts, participants can share the labels they use to describe themselves, discuss how the perceptions of others have affected their mental health, and share advice that can help others if they were to encounter a similar situation.
Everyone who needs mental health treatment deserves access to quality care. National Minority Mental Health Month brings attention to the need to serve marginalized communities, and helps millions of minorities get the treatment they need.