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Breaking Down the Barriers: July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Celebrate the entire month of July because it is officially Minority Mental Health Awareness Month! Established by the United States House of Representatives in 2008 in honor of activist and writer, Bebe Moore Campbell, with the goal of raising awareness, support for families and communities and removing the stigma of mental health issues in communities of color. Everyone can participate. Communities nationwide are joining in discussions using social media, sharing a personal story of a family member or friend, hosting prayer breakfasts and spiritual outings, reading a book or watching a moving about someone with a mental illness, and taking advantage of free mental health training according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

One major way to learn about this neglected issue in minority communities is to discuss statistics that are regularly ignored. The Office of Minority Health, an organization within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tracks minority health care data. Startling 2012 statistics include non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black persons are two times as likely to receive antidepressant prescription treatments and people of African American descent have a 20 percent higher incidence of serious psychological distress than persons that are non-Hispanic whites. Distress is compounded even more for people of color who are living two or three times below established poverty levels. Statistics continue with sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness being reported at 1.9 percent to 5.2 percent more for non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white females, aged 18 years or older. Deaths associated with suicide ranged from 9 percent to 12.9 percent for African American males age 15 to over 65, with an average rate of 9 percent. The rates are even higher for other persons of color with a range of 18.9 percent to 33.7 percent for the same ages.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHS), a group within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently reported that African Americans mental health disorders are below the national average representing 3.3 percent for the former and 3.6 percent for the latter in 2012 for ages 18 and older. The same agency reported mental illness incidents for Native Americans and Alaska Native Indians in 2011 as 28.3 percent, along with 2012 being 8.5 percent for serious mental illness conditions in the same age group. The number cited for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Hawaiians was more difficult to determine due to varying ranges of 3.3 percent to 13.9 percent per age group. This group has the lowest reported levels of mental illness than all other minority populations. Minority communities often regard mental health issues as family business and private, as well as psychiatric services being relegated to the severely mental.

Eliminating barriers to treatment are critical to persons of color getting help in health care settings. Periodic reports dating back as far as 2000 by the United States Surgeon indicate that people of color are less likely to get treatment and when they do, the treatment is poor in quality and disparate. Discrimination, cultural differences, access to services, and lack of knowledge and education are all factors that need to be discussed and considered when addressing the needs of minority communities. Changes in health care law with the Affordable Care Act are opening up avenues to remove these barriers by funding more community health centers, creating more health education outlets and pamphlets, as well as increasing opportunities for minority health care training and education. Providers that understand cultural differences are critical to getting the right treatment along with making sure the patient understands what the treatment requirements and benefits are. Training and education on cultural competence are being incorporated in health care settings and educational institutions. Relationships between health care providers and people of color need to consist of education, patient empowerment for minority groups, alliance building, and development of different types of healing strategies, along with a sense of social justice and promoting reciprocal relationships without any blame or inhibition.