One in five U.S. adults has a mental illness. Often, the likelihood that they will receive treatment—as well as the quality of that treatment—will depend in part on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

In fact, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, members of racial and ethnic minority populations are:

  • Less likely to have access to mental health services
  • More likely to turn to emergency departments than community mental health service providers
  • Less likely to receive high-quality mental health care

This month, in keeping with the annual observance of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Clinical Research Pathways joins organizations and agencies throughout the U.S. in calling attention to such disparities. We also encourage individuals and organizations to continue to explore ways to address these and other mental health-related issues.

Multiple barriers to care, especially for minority populations

For people with mental health conditions, barriers to care can be considerable and complicated. The same social factors that affect physical health—education and income levels, neighborhood conditions, and proximity to healthcare services—can have a powerful impact on mental health.

The stigma that many associate with mental illness adds yet another obstacle, especially among members of racial and ethnic minority populations. These same populations face an additional barrier in the lack of culturally and linguistically competent providers.

Recent data indicate that:

  • African Americans are 10% more likely to report experiencing serious psychological stress than whites.
  • African Americans living below the poverty level are three times more likely to report psychological distress than African Americans with incomes over twice the poverty level. Results are similar for Hispanic Americans: Those living below the poverty level are twice as likely to report psychological distress than those with incomes over twice the poverty level.
  • In 2014, white Americans received mental health treatment two times more often than Hispanic Americans.
  • In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death for American Indians/Alaska Natives between the ages of 10 and 34. Members of these ethnic populations are 50% more likely than whites to experience feelings of nervousness or restlessness.
  • Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than whites.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Survey on Drug Use and Health, LGBT individuals are more than twice as likely to experience a mental health condition than individuals who identify as straight. Some LGBT individuals may avoid seeking care because of fear of discrimination.

A difficult but worthwhile challenge

There’s no simple solution to these and other health inequities. Many organizations and individuals—from government agencies and nonprofit entities to pharmaceutical and insurance companies, researchers, and health care providers—have long been working to identify and reduce health disparities, with some success.

Although progress has been slower than many would like, organizations, including Clinical Research Pathways, remain determined to continue advancing health equity and, ultimately, improving health and quality of life for all. Building awareness is a small but essential step. Please join us in spreading the word.