There is a known disparity between mental health care and minority populations. According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Women of color also tend to have higher levels of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, which is known to increase the likelihood of poor physical and mental health. We want to explore those gaps and figure out why minorities, especially women of color, aren’t receiving the mental health care that they need, and how this can improve.
Misunderstandings and Misinformation:
Stigmas and cultural beliefs surrounding mental health and those who turn to a professional for help presents challenges to those who might otherwise seek out help. “Women of color often face a number of societal and interpersonal barriers which can lead to a reluctance to reach outside of their kinship circles to get help,” said Saida Agostini, Director, Capacity Building YWCA USA.
Women of color face intense pressure to be strong and independent and to be able to push through challenges, no matter how stressful and overwhelming. According to the APA, “Soujorner syndrome and the Superwoman Schema (SWS) concepts are used to explain the phenomenon of early onset of morbidity among African American women in response to persistent chronic stress and active coping associated with meeting day-to-day demands and having multiple caregiver roles.” As a result, many fear being judged by their families and peers as weak for getting help and suffer in silence. The role of religion cannot be overlooked, as it can feed into the spread and enforcement of misinformation surrounding mental health. Some religious communities view mental illness as a punishment from God or a sign of spiritual weakness, which discourages conversation about mental health.
Economic factors impact women of color utilizing mental health care services. Access to healthcare, especially mental health care is inadequate, this is exacerbated by economic inequality experienced by many women of color. “Black women are the most educated demographic of women, yet there is a significant gap in pay,” said Agostini. “It’s also been found that economic isolation is a significant factor in not being able to invest in healthcare or retirement.” Fighting income inequality will continue to have a ripple-effect on minority communities by increasing access to healthcare services, improving mental health overall.
Despite the clear challenges, there are solutions that can be implemented to increase utilization of mental health care services among women of color. Resources have been developed by psychologists including Therapy for Black Girls, an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls. However, more change is needed and “it means investing in and training more women of color to go into professions like therapy and mental health care services,” said Agostini. By having more people of color, especially women, in positions to provide care to their peer groups, it creates a more open and welcoming environment and allows communities to lead and guide the types of services and care they receive.