Report: Minorities lack proper mental health care
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Minorities in America face severe economic, cultural, linguistic and physical barriers for treatment of mental illness, difficulties that prevent thousands from being properly treated, according to a report released Sunday from the U.S. Public Health Service.
The study said minorities are no more likely than whites to suffer from mental illness, with the overall rate of mental disorders steady at 1 in 5 people. But various factors often keep blacks, Hispanics, American Indians and Asian-Americans from getting the help they need -- and when they do, the treatment may be substandard or too late.
"While mental disorders may touch all Americans, either directly or indirectly, all do not have equal access to treatment and services," Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher said in a statement accompanying the report. "The revolution in science that has led to effective treatments for mental illnesses needs to benefit every American of every race, ethnicity and culture."
"Everyone in need must have access to high-quality, effective and affordable mental health services," Satcher said. "Too often, our mental health problems are left to play themselves out in the nation's streets, homeless centers ... and prisons."
The report offered several recommendations to combat disparities in minority access to mental health care. These measures include boosting research specific to minorities; tailoring treatment to those from different cultures and speaking different languages; integrating mental health care with primary medical care; and increasing mental health services in isolated areas.
Delayed treatment hurts blacks
About 25 percent of African-Americans do not have health insurance, the report said, and many who do are more likely to receive care from a primary health care provider rather than a mental health specialist, the report said. Thus, many blacks receive substandard treatment -- or none at all.
The report said blacks are over-represented in populations at high risk for developing mental illness -- namely, the homeless, prisoners and children in foster care -- meaning the need for mental health treatment is generally higher.
Yet, blacks are more likely than whites to receive mental health treatment for the first time in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals because they delay seeking treatment until symptoms, the report said.
What's more, the report noted, there are few black mental health specialists in the United States, leaving few options for those who prefer treatment by someone of their own race.
Language barrier key for Hispanics
Of all the ethnic groups studied, Hispanics had the highest percentage -- 37 percent -- without any health insurance.
This group also faces major language barriers in mental health care, in which communication is especially vital to proper treatment. The report said few mental health providers identify themselves as Spanish-speaking, and about 4 in 10 Hispanics say they do not have strong English skills.
Although overall rates of mental illness among Hispanics roughly equal that of whites, young Hispanics have higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders and suicide. The study also found that Hispanics born in the United States are more likely to suffer from mental illness than those born in Mexico or living in Puerto Rico.
Location, stigmas also issues
American Indians and indigenous Alaskans living in isolated, rural communities have "severely" limited mental health treatment options, the report said.
The report noted these groups have a suicide rate 50 percent higher than that of the general U.S. population. But a lack of research into mental health issues surrounding native Americans makes it difficult to design and evaluate appropriate mental health care, the study said.
Cultural stigmas associated with mental illness -- more than location, language or other barriers -- stop many Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders from seeking help, the report found.
Members of these groups tend to use mental health services at lower rates than do whites, regardless of their age or gender. The conditions are more severe among those who do seek treatment, the report said.
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