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Overlooked and Underserved: Promoting Mental Health Equity in Marginalized Communities | Healthiest Communities Health News

Awareness of mental health care as a key part of holistic health is growing. Even so, a lack of access to proper care and the stigma that surrounds talking about our mental health remain.

In particular, Black, Indigenous and other persons of color – as well as LGBTQIA+ populations – face stigma, structural barriers and other unique challenges to accessing quality mental health care. It’s crucial that we continue to highlight these struggles and recognize how programs are leveraging education, understanding and advocacy to expand quality mental health care to communities that have long been overlooked and underserved.

A 2022 CVS Health and Morning Consult survey found more than half of Americans (56%) agree that society has become more comfortable engaging in mental health discussions since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Still, members of marginalized communities historically have faced discrimination that impacts their mental health, and often find the conversation especially difficult to join.

Those who are ready to talk about their mental health with a professional might be challenged to find a health care provider who understands their experiences and what it will take to address their needs. In fact, Hispanic individuals make up about 10% of psychologists in the U.S., and less than 5% of psychologists across the country are African American or Black. When underserved groups don’t see health care professionals who look like them or understand their unique experiences and needs, the system can be hard to navigate and it can be difficult to build trust, resulting in less engagement in care.

Another barrier often faced is the cost of care. Half of the respondents surveyed in CVS Health’s 2022 Health Care Insights Study reported moderate to high concern around costs associated with medical office visits, including co-pays. Among people who self-identified as Black or Hispanic, cost concerns were more prevalent: Six in 10 people who identified as Black or Hispanic (60% and 58%, respectively) said the cost of care is a moderate to high concern. Income and insurance coverage, mobility, work schedule and lack of child care are factors that might prevent marginalized patients from receiving the mental health care they need.

Considering the hurdles they face, it is not surprising that members of underserved populations experience disproportionately poor mental health outcomes. The CVS Health/Morning Consult analysis found that 57% of those who identify as LGBTQIA+ expressed concerns about their mental health – 20 percentage points higher than adults overall. What’s more, for underserved populations, mental health concerns are rising. For example, Black Americans surveyed saw an 11-percentage-point increase in mental health concerns since the start of the pandemic.

Educating Patients and Professionals Alike

Thankfully, several sectors of the U.S. health care system are working on expanding access to mental health resources to underserved populations. Successful mental health programs are rooted in the common threads of education, understanding, advocacy and support. For example, CVS Health’s Here4U program is a virtual peer-support group facilitated by a licensed clinician that can be tailored for specific populations such as young adults, parents and Black and LGBTQIA+ communities. As part of the program, participants can discuss life challenges, pressing issues, and events or changes at home with their peers while learning new skills to improve their mental well-being.

It’s not just about educating people experiencing mental health struggles, however. We must educate the clinicians treating patients as well, as they often play an essential role in helping Americans address their mental health. With this in mind, Aetna introduced a four-course continuing education series for behavioral health professionals to increase their cultural and linguistic competencies. Through training and education, these providers can better equip themselves to identify mental health risk factors and engage in proactive, personalized treatment for their patients.

Empowering People Through Access 

According to data from the Health Resources and Services Administration, more than 150 million Americans live in areas where mental health providers, largely psychiatrists, are scarce. As part of its health equity strategy, CVS Health aims to address mental health disparities by providing underserved communities with access to the mental health care services they need.

We understand that convenient access is an integral part of positive mental health outcomes. That’s why select CVS Health MinuteClinic locations nationwide currently have licensed mental health providers on-site, in addition to physicians. As a result, approximately 82% of patients report a reduction in depression symptoms after completing more than one visit with a therapist at these select locations.

Moving Forward With Empathy and Equity

We all have different mental health needs, just as we have different physical health needs. Some populations face distinct challenges to receiving the proactive, effective mental health care they need due to different social determinants of health. We must all work toward creating initiatives that emphasize education built on understanding, and advocate for empowerment of a health care system where everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible.

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