July is the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, formally designated in 2008 to bring awareness to the unique struggles faced by underrepresented groups in the United States.
Bebe Moore Campbell was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked tirelessly to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented groups. Because of her and the work of others, we know that institutional and structural racism negatively affects the mental health of racial and ethnic minorities, causing feelings of disconnection, loneliness and powerlessness; decreased trust in the government and criminal justice system; decreased hope for the future; trauma, including generational trauma; and increased “survival mode”.
Disparities in mental health status based on race and ethnicity are well documented. Examples include:
- Ethnic/racial minorities often bear a disproportionately high burden of disability resulting from mental disorders
- While depression is more common in whites (34.7%), depression in Blacks (24.6%) and Hispanics (19.6%) is likely to be more persistent
- People who identify as being two or more races (24.9%) are most likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group
- American Indians/Alaskan Natives report higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependence than any other ethic/racial group
- Approximately 50% to 75% of youth in the juvenile justice system, which has a disproportionate representation of racial/ ethnic minorities, meet criteria for a mental health disorder
In addition, the healthcare system has not served all people in an equitable manner. Health equity was identified by the Institute of Medicine in their landmark report entitled “Crossing the Quality Chasm,” and can be described as providing care that does not vary in quality because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, geographic location, and socioeconomic status. It is a mark of a high-functioning healthcare system, but, unfortunately, many do not reach this standard.
So what can employers do to combat the behavioral health disparities facing minorities
- Organizational: Facilitate listening sessions for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and issue statements of support of the Black Lives Matter movement – while recognizing that employers need to go beyond issuing statements by taking actions
- Benefits: Ensure that your health plan’s provider directories allow members access to information about providers’ race, ethnicity, and languages spoken. Offer digital behavioral health solutions that provide broader access to therapists of color
- Communications: Imagery and content should incorporate diverse and inclusive families. Provide education about resources specifically aimed at the BIPOC employee
- Individual: Educate yourself on issues of racism, white privilege, and related topics. Senior leaders can demonstrate that they walk the talk by engaging in specific actions to address racial justice issues affecting not only their BIPOC employees but their communities
With the nation focused on racial justice, there is strong momentum for employers to address the urgent need for timely, equitable, and accessible behavioral health services, delivered by culturally competent and linguistically appropriate providers. With the pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement creating new mental health challenges for everyone, employers should act now to support the needs of their employees and ultimately, the health of their organization.