Accessing quality mental health care can be a minefield for Black and Brown communities. Finding affirmative, supportive, and professional mental health care can feel too tall of a task between historical, systemic, and cultural barriers – motivating many to avoid it altogether.
Below is a review of some of the barriers and potential solutions facing Black and Brown communities:
Lack of cultural competency among providers
Black and Brown communities might avoid seeking or establishing mental health care due to previous experiences where they were not affirmed, understood, or supported properly by previous providers.
Additionally, members of these communities may or have felt undue pressure to “make their clinician understand their experience” or to adhere to Black respectability politics in order to appear disarming and safe.
While many of these deterrents appear as nuances in the client-therapist relationship, each microaggression undermines one’s belief in the efficacy of mental health treatment, or worse, further reinforces one’s aversion to engaging in services entirely. Growing awareness regarding these barriers has led to a steady increase in tools and resources seeking to connect potential clients to race-inclusive therapists.
One example are online directory tools, listed below, which focus on highlighting culturally competent therapists within communities for prospective clients.
Biases against healthcare among Black Americans have both historical and cultural roots, specifically unethical medical campaigns (e.g. The Tuskegee Experiment) committed against Black bodies have eroded trust in healthcare providers and systems for generations.
This distrust, along with religious and spiritual influences, motivates Black and Brown communities to avoid seeking professional psychiatric or therapeutic care in favor for faith-based guidance or support. While significant aspects of our lives, religious communities can dissuade people from pursuing psychiatric care, encouraging their members to rely on prayer or spiritual teachings/beliefs.
However, in recognition of the implications of faith on one’s mental health, clinical therapists have worked to provide more holistic care ultimately seeking to support believers considering or acquiring psychiatric care.
Additionally, family cultures of secrecy and privacy have long prevented children – who become adults – from disclosing mental health crises or trauma to healthcare professionals, often further perpetuating a suspicious or dismissive relationship with mental health care.
In recognition of the implications of faith on one’s mental health, clinical therapists have to work to provide more holistic care and not alienate believers in pursuant of psychiatric care.
Lack of Resources
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), health care disparities among racial/ethnic minority populations exist due to inequities among ten leading health indicators, or the social determinants of health (SDOH).
SDOH are identified as socioeconomic factors (e.g., education, employment, poverty), lifestyle behaviors (e.g., physical activity, tobacco/alcohol use), social environment (e.g., educational and economic opportunities, neighborhood and work conditions), and access to preventative services (cancer screenings and vaccinations, etc.).
Racial inequities across these aspects of health codified through systematic and structural racism present significant barriers to access to healthcare for Black Americans. Historically, discriminatory and racist practices and policies have disenfranchised Black Americans from benefits and opportunities (e.g., homeownership, access to high-quality education and healthcare, etc.) that create upward social mobility.
However, program initiatives, research, and legislative measures have been established to improve these SDOH for marginalized communities, including Black and Brown identified individuals thus mitigating healthcare disparities.
At a micro level, the explosion of telehealth, expansion of Medicaid, and availability of financial assistance tools from mental health providers for under- or uninsured people have significantly improved access to quality healthcare options.