After the civil rights movement in the 1960s, many people began to embrace a “colorblind” mentality by focusing on equal treatment regardless of race. In recent years, there has been increasing awareness of persistent racism and the ways in which the colorblind approach actually turns a blind eye to many of the challenges faced by communities of color. Mental health, for example, is one area in which communities of color continue to struggle.
The Mental Health Effects of Racism
BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) often face racism and discrimination in their daily lives. There are countless microaggressions that people of color face on a regular basis, like being mistaken for a service worker or being followed around a store when shopping. In addition, there are systemic racial inequities that have persisted for decades, such as lower mortgage approval rates, employment discrimination, and the wage gap.
These added obstacles and stressors can wear on the mental health of people in communities of color. For example, in the U.S., Black adults are more likely to report persistent symptoms of emotional distress such as sadness and hopelessness compared to white adults. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders exhibit higher rates of depression, and Latinx people are considered a high-risk group for depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The chronic stress of dealing with racism day after day causes inflammatory reactions in the body which can lead to an increased risk for other health problems like heart disease.
The ongoing physical and mental effects of stress caused by racial discrimination, sometimes known as “weathering,” is a serious concern for BIPOC. It’s important for people in these communities to be aware of this effect and acknowledge the toll it can take on them and their loved ones.
Mental Health Stigma in Communities of Color
There are two types of stigma when it comes to mental health in communities of color. The first involves cultural perceptions of mental health. Some BIPOC feel that they will be judged as weak if they talk about feeling depressed or anxious. In some cases, those who do express their struggles are encouraged to turn to their faith community as a primary means of support. The stigma around mental health can lead many to avoid seeking the treatment they need.
Another issue is the stigma within the healthcare system itself. For example, youth in communities of color are more likely to be referred to a juvenile court system than to mental healthcare services. People of color have also been found to receive poorer quality of care overall due to racism, discrimination, and bias in treatment settings. Because they are at risk of being misdiagnosed, undertreated, or having their concerns dismissed, many people in communities of color have increased levels of mistrust of the healthcare system.
Reduced Access to Mental Healthcare
People in communities of color also experience reduced access to mental healthcare services. Some of the barriers to care may include:
- Lack of health insurance or inadequate health insurance coverage
- Lack of easy and/or affordable transportation to healthcare appointments
- Language barriers (for non-English speakers and those who speak English as a second language)
- Low rates of BIPOC in the mental health profession
These and other issues can make it more difficult for BIPOC to access the mental healthcare services they need. Communities of color continue to suffer when these problems are not addressed. For example, Black patients in the U.S. are more likely to turn to emergency and/or primary care specialists for mental health issues instead of a mental health specialist.
Mental Healthcare Treatment Options
Where should people in communities of color turn when they need mental healthcare? There are a number of treatment options which can be considered. This mental health resource guide for BIPOC provides helpful tips for locating mental health providers, online support groups, and more. This can be a great starting point for those seeking help with their depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, without facing judgement from others or establishing proper care as a person of color.
Because traditional treatments like medication and talk therapy often carry stigmas in these communities, it can also help to consider alternative mental health treatments. For example, Ketamine Infusion Therapy is highly effective for treating depression and anxiety, and it only takes six infusions over the course of two to three weeks to experience relief in most cases. This option can help many people in communities of color get the treatment they need while bypassing some of the stigmatic issues they may have feared in the past.
Mental healthcare for BIPOC continues to lack in many ways. As we experience a renewed focus on healthcare inequalities, there is hope that many of these issues can be addressed so that everyone can get the help that they deserve.