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Mental Health and Minority Populations

Depression affects all walks of life. For members of ethnic and racial minority communities, including Asian, Native American, African Americans and Latinos, depression is a significant public health concern. Some of the leading factors contributing to this problem are the many hurdles preventing minorities from seeking treatment. These hurdles can include cultural competency issues, limited access to treatment, and stigma.

Addressing Cultural Concerns in Your Students

Statistics show there is a need for increased mental health care among minorities. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health:

  • The death rate from suicide for African American men is almost four times that for African American women, in 2009.
  • African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites.
  • Older Asian American women have the highest suicide rate of all women over age 65 in the United States.
  • Suicide attempts for Hispanic girls, grades 9-12, were 70% higher than for White girls in the same age group, in 2011.
  • While the overall death rate from suicide for American Indian/Alaska Natives is comparable to the White population, adolescent American Indian/Alaska Native females have death rates at almost four times the rate for White females in the same age groups.

While stigma plays a role in low treatment rates across all populations, it can be more pronounced in some cultural communities. Research indicates that stigma is felt more strongly by the Asian populations than by the White population (Ho, Yeh, McMabe, & Hough, 2007). Furthermore, stigma may reduce a family’s access to resources and increase isolation and hopelessness among patients and their family members (Ho et al., 2007). In response to this stigma, some Asian American family members may discourage treatment of their children out of concern of a mental health professional breaching confidentiality or worries over damaging a family’s reputation.

Limited access to mental health treatment resources and language barriers also contribute to a high incidence of depression among some minority groups and can negatively impact teens. These groups can experience a higher rate of unemployment and restricted access to health insurance plans. Even those who are employed often only have access to limited health insurance plans that do not cover mental health services.

As schools work with students from a range of different backgrounds, it is increasingly important to include minority groups in mental health awareness. Partnerships with community organizations that have access to a variety of populations can help. Educating parents and families through parent nights and with materials included in the SOS Programs can also have a major impact.

Schools are in a unique position to not only change mental health perceptions among students, but among families and the community as a whole.