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Why the Mental Health Crisis Isn’t New for People of Color

Three diverse women sitting on bed and comforting one of them

One of the few silver linings from the COVID-19 pandemic is a growing attention to our nation’s mental health crisis. 

This crisis may be new to some people, but it’s not new to people of color (POC). And if we don’t talk about how the mental health system has left POC behind, attempts to fix the system will just exacerbate these inequities. 

Here’s why a focus on POC is core to our mission at Therapy4thePeople. 

Although rates of diagnosed mental health conditions tend to be equal or lower for POC compared to White people, there are notable exceptions. For example, Black Americans and Native Americans experience higher rates of PTSD compared to other racial/ethnic groups. And studies indicate that mental illness is often under- or mis-diagnosed in POC. When POC do have diagnosed mental health conditions, these conditions can last longer and cause more disability

POC also face persistent barriers to accessing appropriate mental healthcare.

As this graph shows, individuals across all racial and ethnic groups are less likely to access mental health services than White people. According to SAMHSA, cost is the leading barrier to care across all racial/ethnic groups. (I’ll write more about our focus on cost in a future post.) Other barriers include structural and logistical challenges, prejudice and discrimination, and low perceived need. 

When POC do access care, they’re more likely to end treatment early. Difficulty with finding culturally sensitive care contributes to this phenomenon. There aren’t enough therapists who are Black, Latino, Native American, or Asian to ensure a person of color is able to work with someone who shares their background and culture. The shortage of bilingual therapists also makes it difficult for immigrants to find a therapist who literally speaks their language. 

We have to do better.

Here’s how we’re centering the needs of POC in our work:

  • Each listing in our directory of affordable services includes information relevant to POC, such as specialized services for different racial/ethnic groups and languages that services are available in.
  • We provide education and resources for finding culturally sensitive care. See our posts on finding care if you’re Native American, AAPI, Latino, or Black
  • Our directory includes non-therapy resources (e.g., support groups) that may be more culturally acceptable and appealing for POC at different stages of help-seeking. 
  • We’re developing a marketing plan to ensure that we reach POC help-seekers directly.
  • Our team includes POC at all levels of the organization, and our board has committed to having a membership that is at least 50% POC.

We know we can’t fix everything that’s wrong with the mental health system. But we’re doing our part to ensure that POC don’t keep getting left behind.

If you have ideas for how we can do this differently or better, we welcome them.

Thank you for your support.

This edition of Progress Notes was first published in our monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter and get access to Progress Notes a week before it goes live on our website.

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