Understanding Mental Health Care Stigmas in African American and Latino Communities

chase reppen
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Provider Outreach Intern, Chase Reppen, pictured above.

Aquinas College junior Chase Reppen served as a summer 2017 intern at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan in the Provider Outreach department. During his few months spent working at Blue Cross, he created a cultural sensitivity online training program for health care providers. African Americans and Latino communities often deal with more stigma surrounding the topic of mental health treatment. Chase dove a little deeper to see why this happens and steps that can be done to overcome the mental health stigma.

As an intern at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, I got involved in the Communications department’s Mind-Body Connection Campaign. It’s a campaign to increase awareness of the ways mental health can influence overall health and wellness.

A question at a team meeting sparked my interest: “Why does the stigma surrounding mental health treatment seem to be more pronounced in the African American community?” My boss asked me to research the topic and write about it.

Here’s what I found:

African Americans and Mental Health

  • African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population, according to the African American Mental Health section of the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.
  • Also, according to NAMI, African Americans are more likely to experience certain factors, such as homelessness and exposure to violence, that increase their risk for developing a mental health condition.
  • An article in Ebony maintains that African Americans rarely talk about mental health issues and are less likely to seek mental health services. When they do, they often discover that health care providers can be insensitive to the cultural experiences of African Americans.
  • According to Mental Health America, stigma and judgment often prevents African Americans from seeking treatment for mental illness. Furthermore, some believe that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles

Latinos and Mental Health

As part of my research I was surprised to find that mental health stigmas are also more pronounced to Latino communities. Here’s some information from the Latino Mental Health section of the National Alliance on Mental Illness website:

  • As with African Americans, Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment. A 2001 Surgeon General’s report found that only 20 percent of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder talk to a doctor about their concerns.
  • Many Latinos don’t seek treatment for fear of being labeled as “loco” (crazy).
  • The Latino community tends to be private and doesn’t want to talk in public about their mental health challenges.
  • Many Latinos don’t seek treatment because they don’t recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions. This lack of information increases the stigma associated with mental health issues.

Combating the Stigma in All Communities

Of course, it’s not just African Americans and Latinos who experience a stigma against mental health treatment. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults of any race or ethnicity experiences a mental illness but only 41 percent receive care. This means that most people who have a mental health condition suffer in silence.

So what can be done to help combat the mental health stigma? Here are three steps I would recommend:

  1. If you’ve suffered from mental health challenges yourself, share your stories with close friends and family members. This can help break down the barriers others may feel — barriers that may prevent them from seeking necessary help now or in the future.
  2. If a friend or family member seems depressed, anxious or is exhibiting other troubling symptoms, ask them to talk to you about how they’re feeling.
  3. If you think your friend or family member might benefit from treatment, encourage them to schedule a visit with their primary care doctor or a mental health professional.

Although none of us singlehandedly can eliminate the mental health stigma, we can try to chip away at it by offering support and encouragement whenever possible.

My personal vision? For mental health care to be viewed much the same way as medical care: as another avenue that can lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life.

Photo Credit: ayana

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