Advocating For Better Access and Resources to Mental Health Care in Underrepresented Communities

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Mental health care should be accessible and readily available for anyone. However, this is not always the case. It can be challenging for many people to get access to mental health care in the United States, and it’s even more challenging for racial, ethnic, religious, and gender minorities. Not only are there the problems most people experience — issues with insurance, long wait times, difficulty finding specialists, high deductibles, and co-pays — but there are added burdens of access and quality-of-care in underrepresented communities.

Why This Happens

Despite the existence of effective treatments, many disparities lie in the availability, accessibility, and quality of mental health services for racial and ethnic minorities. There is a lack of large-scale research that applies specifically to minority populations. Research is necessary to gain information about prevention, access, service delivery, and quality of care.

There are many reasons why minorities aren’t getting proper mental health care, including:

  • A lack of availability
  • Transportation issues
  • Difficulty finding childcare or taking time off work
  • High levels of mental health stigmas in minority communities
  • A mental health system weighted heavily towards non-minority values and cultural norms
  • Racism, bias, and discrimination in treatment settings
  • Language barriers and an insufficient number of providers who speak languages other than English

Crime Rates and Mental Health 

Unfortunately, many people in jail or prison are in a lifelong battle with their mental health. Half of state and federal prisoners and two-thirds of jail inmates are in severe psychological distress or have a history of mental illness. Mental health concerns can also contribute to the difficulty many individuals have escaping the criminal justice system. Two-thirds of those released from prison will be rearrested within three years.

According to the National Institute on Mental Illness’ article “Racial Disparities in Mental Health and Criminal Justice,” “black people [are] 3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated in jail and nearly five times more likely to be incarcerated in prison nationwide.” The article continues, “even though people of color are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system, there is evidence that they are less likely to be identified as having a mental health problem. Also, they are less likely to receive access to treatment once incarcerated.”

The big question is, what if people could get help before they got in trouble?

When People Get Arrested

When someone witnesses a crime or crisis situation, they may call 911 because they want to care for their loved one or friend. In a crisis situation, there is no other number to call, meaning people reach out to the only choice they have. However, when the police show up on the scene, this may lead to arrest.

When law enforcement provides the help of a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), these arrests could potentially be avoided. This alone can transform an entire community.

Benefits of a Crisis Intervention Team

The lack of mental health crisis services in the U.S. has resulted in law enforcement officers serving as first responders to most issues. A CIT program is an innovative, community-based approach to improve the outcomes of these encounters. CIT programs can help create connections between law enforcement, mental health professionals, hospital emergency services, and people with mental health issues.

It takes a collaborative effort from the community and intensive training to ensure those with mental health issues are taken care of properly. Even if law enforcement understands how to handle the situation with care, they should still be supported to help those who may be struggling.

How We Can Help

The mental health system, at times, is flawed. We all know that, and many of us have experienced it personally. All mental health advocates should band together to improve the status quo for those who are the least likely to seek and receive treatment — those who are most vulnerable to the systemic disparities of getting help.

Together, we can raise the bar for better mental health care for everyone, especially minorities. You can get started by doing the following:

  • Encourage mental health organizations to include minorities on staff or boards of directors.
  • Write, call, or talk to legislators — both local and federal — to support efforts to improve access to and quality mental health services in your area.
  • Be a spokesperson when there is an opportunity to speak out on behalf of minority mental health.
  • Share information you’ve learned about accessing quality care with others.
  • Try to be more open and understanding towards what minority communities might be experiencing that you might not.

Whether you have personally experienced the challenges associated with minority mental health or advocating for a better mental health system, anyone can help make a difference. Opening the doors to quality mental health care for minorities is challenging, but we can all do our part in making a difference for easier access and quality care.

Mental health and wellness care should be available for everyone no matter who they are or where they live. Crisis Intervention Team programs can be highly beneficial for those who often end up in situations where they are misunderstood. Many people in underserved communities need help and care for their mental health that they are not receiving. It takes a community effort to help this group of people. Deciding to help people during a mental health crisis can set the tone for an entire community. It humanizes the people that may go unnoticed on a daily basis. If you or someone you know is dealing with similar situations in their life, there are people who can effectively help you. The Kimberly Center is more than equipped to help you and your family. We offer a plethora of mental health treatments that can help change your life. Contact us today at (855) 452-3683.

Kimberly Center Staff
Kimberly Center Staff
Publishing account for ADDICTION RECOVERY

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