Mental Health Disparities in Marginalized Groups

By Isabelle Aquilina (‘23)

Around 5% of adults experience mental health issues in their lifetime. This number is increasingly higher in younger populations, with around 20% suffering from mental illness. Even now in this new isolated environment, depression and anxiety rates are much higher than previously seen. Mental health affects each individual person in a different way, however racial or LGBTQ minorities tend to be more negatively affected. During this time of stress around the world, it is important to recognize and treat mental health, as rates of depression and anxiety have skyrocketed as a result of this pandemic. Recognizing these disparities is essential in this environment and is the first step to developing comprehensive solutions to this growing issue among marginalized populations.

African Americans make up around 13% of the U.S. population, however make up less than 10% of all mental health patients in the U.S. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) concludes this is mostly due to the lack of extensive health care in African American communities. They estimate that only ⅓ of those that suffer from mental health issues actually receive treatment. Even among those treated on average receive a poorer quality of treatment. African Americans make up a lesser percentage of patients that utilize psychiatric wards and mental health medications when compared to white or Hispanic patients, however, they make up more of the inpatient mental health treatment. African Americans are more likely to use the emergency room for mental health-related treatment rather than a psychiatrist. 

Hispanic and Latino populations make up a similar percentage of those receiving mental health treatment as African Americans. These groups are similar in the way that they both experience health care disparities, with 10% of Hispanics or Latinos receiving mental health care from a primary physician and around half of that amount receiving specialist treatment. Additionally, Hispanic and Latino students are half as likely to be diagnosed with antidepressants or stimulants used to treat disorders such as ADHD and ADD. The APA again credits this to health care disparities, with 21.1% of non-white Hispanics and Latinos being uninsured. Looking specifically at children of this group, the rates of mental illness are increasingly more than that of white children. Twenty percent of Hispanics and Latinos in high school are reported to be suicidal with 11.3% attempting. This number is much larger when compared to white or black students. 

Members of the adult LGBTQ community make up around 3.8% of the U.S. population and they are 2.5 times as likely to develop a mental disorder in their lifetime, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Specifically, queer women are 2 times as likely to abuse alcohol than heterosexual women. The rate of suicidal thoughts for heterosexual men and women is half that of gay men or lesbians and those in the LGBTQ community are 4 times as likely to commit suicide. The suicidal tendencies alos differ within the LGBTQ community, with rates of suicidal thoughts being 4.4% of gay men and lesbians, 7.4% of bisexual persons, and 30.8% of transgender individuals. The transgender community’s rates are significantly higher, however, within this community, transgender people of color are much more likely to suffer from mental illness and attempt suicide. The APA credits this to discrimination of the LGBTQ community when seeking mental health resources and overall lack of social support for them when compared to their heterosexual peers and the lack of acceptance from family members. Bisexual people, in particular, are the most likely to face discrimination. Overall the APA credits these issues most likely to the lack of federal non-discrimination programs. 

This issue is not easily fixed and if ignored can result in a number of consequences. Researching these issues and raising awareness is a great way to prevail. Other solutions included by the APA include more inclusive healthcare plans, specifically in regard to mental health outlets, and overall destigmatizing of mental health. These actions, especially during this time of crisis in our nation that has led to the crippled mental health of many, are key to recognizing and working toward fixing these disparities against marginalized groups and communities to allow for equal recognition and treatments for all affected by mental health issues.

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