Mental Health: The Hidden Illness Plaguing Minority Communities

Mental Health: The Hidden Illness Plaguing Minority Communities

Mental health issues can affect anyone, but sometimes are more prevalent in minority communities. It's important that quality mental health care be available to all.


By the Society for Women's Health Research

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological and social well-being and influences how we think, what we feel and how we act. It affects how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.

The concept of "mental health" certainly isn't new, but it's only just beginning to be discussed. Unfortunately, it is still rarely discussed in minority communities, even though mental health issues are especially prevalent in some minority communities.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Minority Health says African Americans are a whopping 20 percent more likely to report having "serious psychological distress" than non-Hispanic whites.

But it's certainly not affecting just African American populations. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) cites American Indians and Alaska natives as the populations with the highest mental health issue prevalence, with 28.3 percent of American Indians and Alaska native adults reporting living with a mental health condition. Non-Hispanic white adults have a 19.3 percent prevalence of living with a mental health condition; African American adults, 18.6 percent; Hispanic adults, 16.3 percent; and Asian adults have 13.9 percent prevalence.

As NAMI notes, mental health affects everyone, regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

The Office of Minority Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that poverty level has an impact on mental health. African Americans living below the poverty line, as compared to those over twice the poverty level, are three times more likely to report mental health issues. Poverty can prevent individuals from accessing the care they need.

NAMI says these factors limit minority populations getting quality mental health care:

  • Less access to treatment
  • Less likely to receive treatment
  • Poorer quality of care
  • More stigma
  • Culturally insensitive health care system
  • Racism, bias, homophobia or discrimination in treatment settings
  • Language barriers
  • Lower rates of health insurance

Further, people living with chronic illness—diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis—are more likely to experience mental health issues like depression. Many of these chronic conditions are highly prevalent in minority communities.

It's also important to note that women experience higher rates of mental health issues than men. Two-thirds of all individuals with depression are women, and eating disorders, panic disorders, phobias and borderline personality disorders also predominantly affect women.

The Society for Women's Health Research is the thought-leader in promoting research on biological differences in disease and is dedicated to transforming women's and minority health through science, advocacy, and education. To learn more about our work on mental health, visit our website:


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