Society Magazine

Combating Inequality In Mental Health Care

Posted on the 07 September 2016 by Juliez
Combating Inequality In Mental Health Care

We need to talk about unequal access to mental healthcare.

There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.”

These words, originally written by C.S. Lewis, are painted on a wall in my apartment. My bedroom has become a sanctuary of spiritual healing and redemption: I practice yoga and meditative exercises while burning incense and floral candles. I boil water for tea in the kitchen and grow my own herbs and spices for recipes. I play soft rock and smooth jazz music aloud to create a warm, soothing space in my home. My home is where I run when I need a break from the complications of life and it’s where I thank myself for waking up every morning and leaving the past behind.

I have suffered from depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies from the age of 12 on. For a long time, I hid behind the shame of my mental illness rather than learning how to unfold and tend to my physical and emotional well-being. Like many who live with mental illness, I tried to “get over” it, to push aside my depression, and promptly move forward. But ignoring my mental health only led to extreme mood swings, repressed depression, and self-harm. Before I sought therapy at age 13, and openly expressed my feelings to another person, I had intense suicidal thoughts and harmed parts of my body in order to express familial frustrations, body image misperceptions, and self-doubt.

I wish “getting over” depression was as easy as saying it, but it isn’t. I spent about a total of two years on-and-off in therapy throughout middle school and high school. I have slowly learned how to practice self-love, embrace the beauty of self-care, and engrave these things into my emotional growth and overall well-being. I am still attempting to embrace my identity, rebuild myself, and eradicate the anguish I once carried in my heart.

I have learned that being aware of our feelings is not distressing, but empowering. When people repress, they move into deep stages of hate, depression, and apathy, which causes the challenges of society to control and distract us from healing an impaired system. When I struggled with body image, for example, I rejected the reality of my disturbing thoughts until my stability and self-image became illusory. My repressed body distortion feelings blocked my judgment and caused conflict, including excessive exercise and restrictive eating behaviors throughout high school, jumping into an unstable and emotionally abusive relationship at the age of 18, and distancing myself from my family and close friends.

Not everyone is as fortunate as I am to receive good mental health care — or at all, for that matter. Mental health care has come a long way in the past century. America has more humane and effective treatment options than ever before. Many people are able to address their mental health challenges with a nearby school psychologist, through vigorous outreach programs such as Minority Mental Health Awareness Monthly (MMHAS) and Suicide Prevention Week, and by reaching out to local therapists and clinical psychologists.

But even so, it’s no secret that the stigmas surrounding mental illness still cause people to avoid seeking the treatment they need — especially minorities, who are, in fact, less likely to be treated due to their ethnicity. This often results in mental illness not only being culturally categorized as a “white problem,” but also millions of fatal cases nationwide. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, roughly two-thirds of Americans diagnosed with a mental illness don’t seek treatment. In fact, individuals who live in diverse communities and who lack knowledge and/or fear discrimination related to mental health are more likely to not seek treatment for their mental illness, according to a recent report published in the 2016 International Journal of Health Services. More than half of young adults in America aged 8-15 didn’t receive mental health services in 2015, and African Americans and Hispanic Americans “used mental health services about half the rate of whites” that year, too.

There are many reasons for this disparity, including persistent racism, homophobia, and other biases, lack of access to resources in the community, and lack of cultural understanding and awareness of this issue. Ending racial and cultural disparities in access to care can and must start with erasing cultural stigmas about mental illness in all communities. Researchers and policymakers should also explore how they can increase access to mental health facilities and specialists in all of the communities they represent.

After I received treatment for my depression from a local mental health specialist, I often questioned how and why I was so aware of my options for care, whereas members of many other communities in America are offered little if any education about resources available to them. My school district was well-funded and sponsored Amnesty programs and Mental Health Awareness Monthly events, but not all school districts and communities do the same. America’s mental health system is severely flawed in its refusal to help all people from various backgrounds receive mental health treatment equally.

But there are ways that people can get involved in strengthening mental health access and support in their communities. Organizations like Mental Health America, The Office of Adolescent Health, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and American Psychological Association, among many other organizations work to extend access to mental health programs to American children and adults from all backgrounds. Recently, the School Mental Health programs of 2016 was established in New York City to provide comprehensive mental health care to NYC students and families — eliminating the barriers to academic success.

This week — Suicide Prevention Week — especially, we must remember to embrace the community-based mental health resources available to us and raise awareness about such organizations in our communities. Remember your mental health matters, and every action taken towards recovery counts.

September 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention Week. If you or someone you know is struggling with their emotional health, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to speak to someone.

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