Mental Health Awareness Month: Combating Care Disparities

, May 27, 2021

CATEGORIES: Consumer Innovation Group
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Over the past year, mental health has been impacted significantly by disparities, inequity, and unequal access to healthcare, especially for people of color. As we close Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re recognizing the underserved groups that face overwhelming disparities when it comes to mental health services and needs.

Health equity is a simple concept but has been difficult to achieve. People of color are experiencing a health crisis. A recent Healthline survey found that people of color in the US are less likely to rate their overall health and wellness as “excellent” or “very good” compared to white Americans.

At March, we’re in a unique position to tell the stories of companies who are working to close these gaps and make a difference – and we couldn’t be prouder.

Health literacy and healthcare access is one of the biggest disconnects within the mental health space. One March client, mPulse Mobile works connect to hard-to-reach populations to care, taking cultural differences into account when design content with valuable healthcare information.

One way they do that is by generating content in different languages from the start, rather than translating English content to other languages. mPulse members can also find content that specifically resonates based on their cultural background. For example, one program leverages fotonovelas, comic-like visual stories, delivered via link in text messages for member education. Programs like this saw a 37% engagement rate from Spanish speakers, vs 17% for English-speaking members.

Our work with brands such as mPulse, among others, gives us the opportunity to use our storytelling superpower to create change in the healthcare space. At the same time, this work has opened our eyes to the many factors impacting communities’ mental health and overall wellbeing.  There are many factors that contribute to mental and physical health disparities. We’ve been learning more about the following three.

Socioeconomic divide

According to researchers, Black and Latino people suffer disproportionately from psychosis risk factors, at the neighborhood level and at the individual level, in large part as a result of structural racism.

Many Black Americans and other minorities experience “neighborhood effects,” – stress resulting from a low-income environment, frequently increasing your risk of exposure to police victimization and gun violence. People of color are more likely to live in these neighborhoods, one study reporting that 20 percent of black households are extremely low income renters, compared to 6 percent of white households. As a result Black men have a 1 in 1000 chance of being a victim of lethal force by police over their lifetime. By comparison, White men have a 39 in 100,000 chance.

Access to care

To cope with neighborhood effects and the racism induced trauma, people of color need access to mental healthcare. Living with increased stress levels can not only impact one’s ability to joyfully enjoy their day to day, but it can also cause serious physical health complications from fatigue, to heart disease, to weight gain or loss. Without the access to support, neighborhood effects can take their toll on communities.

Only one-in-three African Americans who need mental health care receives it and the rate of mental illnesses in people of color are similar when compared to the general population. However, disparities exist when trying to access mental health care services, with Black Americans often receiving poorer quality of care and lack access to culturally competent care.

Lack of representation

One factor blocking access to quality care, is the lack of diversity in the mental health workforce. Already at a disadvantage due to structural disparities, people of color are often unable to find providers who look like them or share their cultural experiences, which in turn, causes a disconnect between them and their therapist.

According to studies cited in HealthAffairs, Black patients obtain better outcomes and are more engaged in treatment when they have a provider who looks like them and can relate to the psychological effects of racism. Unfortunately, 86% of psychologists are white, and only 5% are Asian, 5% are Hispanic, and 4% are Black. Mental health stigma is a factor that many are battling as well, and with the lack of representation of psychologists, people of color struggle to find someone they feel safe and comfortable sharing their mental health journey with.

Not only is there a lack of representation in providers but compared to their counterpart, people of color are less frequently included in research and are less likely to receive guideline-consistent care. Without being represented in research relating to mental health data, it can build a false view of the care they need and how many people are affected by mental health issues.

Health inequities are an important issue that should be proactively worked on, and technology and innovation can do just that. Especially as health tech evolves to meet an increasingly digital world, there’s huge opportunity for reaching those with limited healthcare access, whether it’s providing information or support systems. While people of color struggle with the socioeconomic divide, access to care, and lack of representation, technology and innovation can provide the solution to combat the issue of disparities in mental healthcare.

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