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Dr. Angela Porter, Medica Medical Director

Mental Health in the Black Community

Recently, Medica's Black Excellence employee resource group hosted a panel of Black Mental Health professionals to discuss the state of Mental Health in the Black community. Listen to a recording to gain insights from our panelists: Dr. Peter Hayden and Dr. C. Tyrone Jennings both from Turning Point Inc., and Priscilla Leggs, Master's of Arts in Clinical Psychology, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, and Payment Integrity Analyst III at Medica.

Mental health is at the forefront of the national discussion. People across the country are reporting increased incidents of depression, anxiety, and mental crises, but the statistics for Black Americans are especially concerning. Let's take a deeper look at the influencing factors that our panelists explored.

Historically, mental health has been stigmatized in many communities, including the Black community. Many Black individuals have faced discrimination, racism, and other forms of oppression, which can contribute to mental health challenges. Despite this, seeking help for mental health concerns is often viewed as a sign of weakness or failure.

Additionally, there is a lack of representation and culturally competent mental health professionals who can provide appropriate support and understanding for Black individuals. This can lead to underdiagnosis or misdiagnosis and undertreatment or incorrect treatment of mental health conditions within the Black community.

However, in recent years, there has been a growing movement to address mental health within the Black community, including initiatives to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and provide culturally appropriate support. It is important to continue to have open and honest conversations about mental health, and to work towards creating a more inclusive and supportive mental health system for all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity. I am honored to be employed by a company that recognizes this disparity and wants to be a part of the conversation.

Mental Health Care Disparities in the Black Community

According to the Mental Health Disparities: African Americans Fact Sheet by the American Psychiatric Association, Black Americans represent 13.3% of the US population. Approximately 11% of Black Americans are uninsured (compared to 7% of non-Hispanic whites). Compared to the general population, Black Americans' mental illness rates are similar, yet only one-third of Black Americans who need mental health care receive it. Instead, they are more likely to turn to emergency rooms, their primary care providers, and also their spiritual community for mental health care.

Obstacles to Care

The Stigma of Mental Health

The America Psychiatric Association reports that more than 50 percent of people with a mental illness either avoid or delay seeking help because of concerns that they will be discriminated against if their mental health condition was known. NAMI reports this to be especially true in the Black community where many Black adults, especially those who are older, view mental health conditions as a sign of personal weakness.

Bias or Inequity of Care in Health Care Systems

Of the Black Americans who did receive mental health care, they are less likely to receive either medication therapy or psychotherapy. And although they report the same symptoms as white Americans, they are diagnosed with schizophrenia more frequently and mood disorders less frequently than their white counterparts. (Inaccurate diagnoses may be due, in part, to differences in how emotional distress symptoms are expressed by Black people and that communication between doctors and Black patients tends to be more physician dominated with less input by the patient.) According to a report compiled by the American Psychiatric Association titled ‘Mental Health Disparities: African American,’ Black Americans diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorders are more likely to be sentenced to prison than those in the general population with the same diagnosis, reflecting the depth of harm that may stem from a too homogenous mental health workforce.

Socioeconomic Inequalities

According to NAMI, in 2020, 10.4% of Black adults in the U.S. had no form of health insurance. Because of this and other socioeconomic factors, people from Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities are more likely to be excluded from resources, which ultimately leads to less favorable health, including mental health, outcomes.

Black Culture and Mental Health:

A shared history of racism, discrimination, and inequity means that the Black community shares an experience unique to their community, with some characteristics that enrich an individual's resilience, sense of identity, and confidence to address mental health challenges like:

  • reliance on family and religious support networks
  • shared expression through music and art
  • a shared value system

And then there are other aspects of shared experiences and beliefs that can disrupt an individual's resilience, sense of identity, and confidence when facing a mental health challenge, such as:

  • the negative impact that racism and discrimination can have on one's mental health
  • the stigma that mental health conditions reflect a person's weakness
  • the widespread practice that family business is private that should be dealt with at home
  • a general distrust of the health care system

Cultural Competence of Care

Studies show that the cultural competence and cultural relatability of providers plays an important role in delivering effective health care for diverse communities. Many health care systems are working to diversify their network of providers so that patients can be offered the option to be cared for by people who look like them or who share their cultural experiences. Additionally, it is becoming more common for health care systems to offer providers tools and resources addressing cultural differences and how to avoid racial bias in care delivery.

Investment at the Community Level

Medica has a strong commitment to supporting the health-related work of nonprofits serving our communities. Helping to promote good health among all populations is a worthy goal and a smart business practice. Whether it is supporting access to healthy food, bringing mobile health clinics to underserved neighborhoods or communities, or facilitating medical care for those who use English as their second language – Medica supports grassroots efforts that help to remove barriers to care.

In the coming weeks, we will highlight a few examples of the types of nonprofits that Medica and its regional hubs fund to address barriers to health care that members of the Black community and other underserved populations experience.