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1:30pm January 16, 2013

Lifting the Black Shadow of Mental Health Care

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As social, economical and personal conditions persist, more African-Americans continue to struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health issues. Many members of the LGBT community are affected as they face coming out, prejudice or ostracization. These factors can lead to substance abuse, behavioral issues, risky sexual activity, mental illness and, sometimes, suicide. Difficulty with finding help can severely impede improvement, and a shaky system in need of monetary support and reform is one of the main reasons why parts of the black community may avoid or cannot gain access to health care.

As a whole, homosexual men and women are twice as likely to seek mental health care versus heterosexuals according to a 2009 UCLA study. Unfortunately, statistics on those who are black and gay are harder to find. According to the 2010 National Healthcare Disparities Report, less than 9% of blacks received psychological treatment in 2008 compared to 16% of whites. In the same report, just over 6% of blacks received medication versus 14% of whites. In 2009, the National Alliance on Mental Illness reviewed all 50 states’ mental health programs and issued a countrywide ‘D’ average. Between 2009-2012, ten states cut mental health care budgets from 10-36%. In addition to limited services, mental health care maintains a stigma. It is a problem–the result of laziness or insanity–instead of a sickness.

Fortunately, President Obama’s work to improve the system may be beneficial as lack of coverage is another obstacle to treatment. A 2011 CDC survey found 18.8% of black Americans under the age of 65 do not have health insurance. This could be due to high premiums, unemployment, poverty or denial due to pre-existing illness. Psychiatric problems fall into the latter category. When it comes to the LGBT community, marriage discrimination also eliminated the possibility for coverage. With the approval of the Affordable Care Act and new marriage laws in a number of states, hopefully there will be more insured.

Cultural tendencies also encourage many black Americans to shun mental health care services. A 2001 Surgeon General’s Report, found that only 2% of the country’s therapists were African American. Without a culturally relevant experience, and general misgivings about the medical system and doctors, there could be a disconnect between a white psychologist and his black patient. This misunderstanding may be the reason that many African-Americans seeking help are misdiagnosed. Occasionally, these diagnoses are incorrect and may result in mental health facility placement or inappropriate medication, rather than talk therapy.

Studies show that LGBT youth have much higher rates of suicide, and by then, it is too late. If you or someone you know may be suffering from a mental illness, find out what services are offered by your state’s Department of Mental Health. There are also local LGBT non-profits and health organizations that offer help on a sliding scale or reduced cost. For immediate help, contact the Trevor Suicide Prevention (800-850-8078) or Rainbow Youth Hotline (877-542-8984).



About the Author

Chrystal Baker





 
 

 
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11 Comments


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  7. this is a very important article.


  8. Access is short-term at best, I identify as a gay male, living with HIV and mental illness, if I new that my substance abuse was because I was bipolar, possible I would not have contracted HIV. I have compilied a list of resources, I hope this helps all those who read your well written article, visit http://www.bipolarbear.us.


  9. Public access and treatment for quality mental health care in Milwaukee County remains unresolved. We could do be doing better for everyone concerned, those to suffer mental illnesses, mental health providers, and families coping with education and supportive care issues.


    • Living in MKE County myself, I couldn’t agree more with what you just said. I can’t even find a single doctor in the Aurora Health Care System (via their website) that may have a certification in LGBT health issues, as I don’t feel any bit comfortable talking to a doctor that has no understanding of the issues that LGBT people face.



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