Fighting Stigma in Minority Communities
Mental illness is the number one health issue affecting young people in the U.S., surpassing both asthma and diabetes. Four million American youth deal with a serious mental health issue that affects their everyday lives. Unmet mental health needs can lead to youth failing in school, being removed from their homes and families, or confinement in juvenile halls.
Youth from minority communities are disproportionately likely to suffer from adverse outcomes due to unmet mental health needs. This is not due to a higher incidence and severity of mental illness in minority communities; rather it reflects that individuals in minority communities are less likely to receive a diagnosis and treatment for their mental illness, have reduced access to mental health services, and experience poorer quality of care. Even after controlling for societal factors such as discrimination, violence, and poverty–ethnic minority communities still have a greater unmet mental health need than Caucasians.
The reasons for these disparities include a lack of culturally competent services, mistrust of health professionals, and immigration status concerns. However, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, stigma towards people with mental illness is the “most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and health.” While stigma affects all people living with mental illness, studies show that culturally influenced stigma may have differential impacts on people in minority communities.
Media Forum Highlights Cultural Stigma Towards Mental Health
At a recent forum in San Francisco, hosted by New America Media and the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, a panel of mental health stakeholders reported on cultural stigma that impacts minority communities and how individuals from those communities cope with mental illness.
One panelist, Katherine Kam, a journalist who produced a news series exploring Asian American youth and mental health, found that social norms affect how Asian American parents deal with their children’s mental health diagnosis. “When a mental health professional delivers a diagnosis of depression, many parents will reject it. They fear that any mental problems will reflect badly on their son or daughter, as well as tarnish their entire lineage,” she wrote.
Another panelist, Jeneé Darden, host of the award winning Mental Health and Wellness Radio at P.E.E.R.S. (Peers Envisioning and Engaging in Recovery Services), discussed stigma towards mental illness in the African American community. When dealing with her own depression, Ms. Darden was often told that “‘
[Read more insights from panelists at the forum on this issue here]
These are a few examples of how cultural stereotypes, misconceptions, and stigma towards mental illness can impede access to treatment and supports for individuals in minority communities. Working to reduce cultural stigma and other barriers to treatment is a complex task, one that can’t be completed without effective engagement of mental health stakeholders.
So what can you do about it?
Share your story. When asked how minority communities could overcome cultural barriers in mental health, one youth panelist at the forum said, “finding people around you that feel the same is very powerful, because depression is VERY isolating.” Sharing your story could help others feel they aren’t alone as well as help to reduce stigma towards people with mental illness. One way to share your story is to be a guest blogger for Young Minds’ blog Hear Me Out. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Become an Advocate. Many great organizations work to empower youth affected by the mental health system, especially those from minority communities. Join one of the youth organizations below to learn how to become an advocate for yourself and your community! Here are just a few in the California Bay Area: California Youth Connection, Youth In Mind, California Coalition for Youth, P.E.E.R.S., New America Media, and Youth Wire.
The Culture of Mental Health Stigma in Communities of Color by Ayorkor Gaba, PsyD for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Blog