What we know. What we can do.
During this extraordinary COVID crisis, families are learning how to cope with not only the physical limits of protecting themselves from the virus, but also their mental well-being. For some minority children and their families, receiving the proper mental health care has been exceptionally challenging.
With July designated as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, we’d like to examine what we know about mental health care for minority children and their families, and how we can better serve this population, especially in these difficult times.
Here’s what we know from a study from the International Journal of Health Services, reported by Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute: while white children and African American children had similar inpatient emergency department utilization rates, their mental health referral rates were staggeringly different:
- African American children had 37% fewer visits to a psychiatrist and 47% fewer visits to a mental health professional (as compared to white children).1
- Hispanic children had 49% fewer visits to a psychiatrist and 58% fewer visits to a mental health professional (as compared to white children).1
- Unfortunately, the study also showed that as children became young adults, (18-34), the gaps in care worsened: African Americans had a 68% lower rate, while Hispanics had a 62% lower rate.1
The study goes on to suggest that this disparity may be because these populations mistrust the health care system, or that their primary care physicians aren’t recognizing and referring mental health issues for minority children. The study does say that perhaps a shortage of mental health physicians to treat these children might be part of the disparity. Finally, the study suggests that perhaps “mental health issues among minority youth often disproportionately result in punishment or incarceration, instead of health care.”1
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mental health is clearly an issue within the minority population. The department says that the CDC and the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) have shown:
- In 2017, 10.5% of young adults aged 18 to 25 had serious thoughts of suicide including 8.3% of non-Hispanic blacks and 9.2% of Hispanics.2
- In 2017, 7.5% of young adults age 18 to 25 had a serious mental illness including 7.6% of non-Hispanic Asians, 5.7% of Hispanics and 4.6% of non-Hispanic blacks.2
- The study adds that obviously, anxiety can be exacerbated during an event like a pandemic, and that the response from a minority group could be even stronger.2
Regardless of the statistics, at SAFY, mental health for minority children and families in the system is paramount to the success of our programs. And, as we all try to social distance to curb the virus, understanding the need for mental health awareness is even more important.
So what can we do?
- Educate. Educate. Educate. We all need to educate one another that mental health can be as important as physical health. Many of us know our rights when it comes to the care of our physical health, but do we understand that we have many of the same rights for our mental health care?
- Ask questions. Never be afraid to question the decision of any health care professional. If you believe you or your family will benefit from mental health care, ASK!
- Push for your mental health care. Sometimes the first answer is “no.” Never stop at “no.” Try again. “No” doesn’t hurt for very long, so don’t hesitate to ask again if you believe you or a loved one needs mental health care.
- Learn how to talk about mental health. Mental health is never an easy subject, but mentalhealth.gov offers excellent ways to build a strong support system with family members, friends, caregivers, educators and others, while providing ways to approach and discuss this often difficult subject.
- Know your rights if you are on Medicaid. Medicaid.gov is an excellent resource for understanding your mental health rights. According to Medicaid.gov, this new section of the website “provides important information regarding services and supports to meet the health, behavioral health and long-term services and support needs of Medicaid individuals with mental health or substance use disorders.”3
- If you are a health care professional. Please know that the HHS Office of Minority Health offers free, e-learning courses that work toward improving the quality of care to clients from diverse backgrounds. “The goal of this e-learning program is to help behavioral health professionals increase their cultural and linguistic competency.”4
Mental health is real for all populations, but we know that minorities often face difficult roadblocks that make care challenging and inaccessible. Diversity deserves dignity — especially when it comes to mental health care.
As we all work together to demand mental health services for minorities, it’s our hope that we can improve educational goals, decrease suicide rates, increase family financial stability and bring families together in a happy and healthy way.
At SAFY, we want to be a voice for underserved, diverse families who are missing the mental health care that they need — and deserve. We believe that early mental health intervention for minority children and their families can change lives! We open our hearts to those in need, as we embrace the importance of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
1 Wagnerman, Karina, Racial and Ethnic Disparities Persist in Mental Health Care for Children, Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, Oct. 14, 2016, ccf.georgetown.edu/2016/10/14/racial-and-ethnic-disparities-persist-in-mental-health-care-for-children/
2 Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/content.aspx?ID=9447
3 Behavior Health Services, Medicad.gov, medicaid.gov/medicaid/benefits/behavioral-health-services/index.html
4 Improving Cultural Competency for Behavioral Health Professional, HHS.gov, thinkculturalhealth.hhs.gov/education/behavioral-health