Prejudices and cultural barriers hinder the diagnosis and treatment of mental health
About 53 million Americans live with a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder, but not all are diagnosed and treated at the same rate, according to a press release from AmeriHealth Caritas.
AmeriHealth cited the American Psychiatric Association, which said black adults are less likely to be offered evidence-based drug therapy or psychotherapy compared to the general population. They are also less likely to receive guideline-compliant care and less frequently included in mental health research, compared to whites.
“The mental health care system was not designed with everyone in mind,” Yavar Moghimi, MD, a behavioral health physician lead for AmeriHealth Caritas, said in the statement. “Provider biases and systemic barriers mean that many black people feel that treatment will not help them.”
Challenges to appropriate diagnosis and treatment for underrepresented populations include the need for a more diverse behavioral health workforce as well as a lack of cultural competency or the skills, behaviors and attitudes needed to work effectively with different cultural groups, AmeriHealth said in the statement. This can lead to misdiagnosis and improper treatment and cause patient distrust. Such barriers can have significant consequences, especially in marginalized communities.
In 2019, suicide became the second leading cause of death among black teens and young adults ages 15 to 24, and black women remain one of the most undertreated American populations for depression, the statement said. .
Moghimi recommends patients consider the following to better assess whether a mental health provider is the right fit and can provide culturally appropriate care:
- if the provider inquires about issues in the context of your social network, such as family, friends or other members of your community;
- if the service provider asks you what, in your opinion, are the causes of your problems;
- if the provider asks about the most important aspects of your background or identity and whether they make a difference to a particular issue;
- whether the provider asks about barriers that may or have prevented you from getting the help you need, including stigma or social determinants of health;
- and whether the provider is researching your concerns about differences in culture or background and what your expectations are for diagnosis and treatment.
According to AmeriHealth, culturally competent mental health providers should consider these issues when trying to provide responsive care in the context of culture and inequities.
“Finding a mental health care provider who can [incorporate] an individual’s unique culture, beliefs and values in their care are important for treatment to be successful,” Moghimi said in the statement.