BIPOC Awareness: How Can Behavioral Healthcare Better Reach Minorities?

Nurse in scrubs speaks to patient

By Cori McMahon, PsyD, NCCE

Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher and mental health advocate whose life efforts focused on the mental health needs of Black and other underrepresented communities. Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was first recognized in 2008 in Bebe Moore Campbell’s honor, and since then, Mental Health America has created a public education campaign each July to continue her visionary work. These continuing campaigns are dedicated to the mental health needs of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (or BIPOC, pronounced “bye-pock”).

Changing U.S. Demographics
The U.S. population continues to become more diverse. By 2044, it is estimated that more than half of all Americans will belong to a minority group (American Psychiatric Association). Studies have shown that 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. While most data show that both white and non-white individuals experience relatively similar rates of mental illness, non-white populations face clear disparities when it comes to accessing behavioral healthcare.

Other data show that rates of depression are lower in Black (24.6%) and Hispanic (19.6%) communities than in the white population (34.7%), but that depression in Blacks and Hispanics is likely to be more persistent. Those who identify as being two or more races (24.9%) are more likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group, followed by Native American/Alaska Native (22.7%), white (19%), and Black (16.8%). However, some populations are more likely to be exposed to risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing a mental health condition, such as homelessness or exposure to violence. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Black Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population and Black youth who are exposed to violence are at greater risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder by age 25.

BIPOC communities are significantly more likely to experience persistent mental health conditions and less likely to receive care because of various social determinants of health, including:

  • Lack of or underinsurance
  • Mental illness stigma, which is often greater among minority groups
  • Lack of diversity in mental health providers
  • Lack of culturally competent providers
  • Language barriers
  • Distrust in the health care system
  • Inadequate support for mental health service in safety net settings (uninsured, Medicaid, etc.)

Improving Access with Cultural Competency
In attempts to close the gap between mental health care providers and the BIPOC communities they serve, many have implemented specific training in cultural competency, which is focused on improving provider understanding of the impact of culture, cultural identity and intersectionality. In fact, state licensing boards require a certain number of continuing education credits (CE/CEU/CME) for mental health providers that are focused specifically in diversity training. Culturally competent care is fundamental to a whole person approach to behavioral health care, which includes understanding the factors beyond race and diagnosis that impact an individual’s behavioral health. Additionally, we can break down mental health stigma by discussing it as routinely as physical health.

We will achieve mental health equity when everyone has equal access to culturally competent care, every minority community is able to reach its full health potential, and no one is impeded from doing so because of socially determined circumstances.

Access more resources for minority mental health