Minorities face distinct barriers when it comes to mental health care

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While mental health issues may not discriminate, certain factors can impact the ability to deal with those issues.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and there is a need to recognize the unique challenges that affect minority communities when it comes to mental health.

Our culture has a big impact on the way we see the world, and respond to it, said Dr. Renee McQueen, senior director of Social Services for Pace Center for Girls. Pace is a local nonprofit serving at-risk girls across diverse backgrounds.

“Cultural differences create behavior and personality differences; things like body language, speaking, communication, which can also lead to miscommunication,” McQueen said. “Cultural differences, coupled with the stigmas around mental health, increases the likelihood of miscommunication.”

Pace, which has 21 locations throughout Florida, aims to provide girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.

“Part of our mission is to provide girls the opportunity to find their voice,” McQueen said. “So, we try to eliminate or minimize those barriers that might hinder us in fulfilling that mission. We recognize that in order to help the girls find success, cultural stigmas around mental health must be addressed.”

McQueen said involving the family unit and the community is key to helping the girls at Pace, as well as those in the minority community, who are struggling with mental health issues and the stigma surrounding it.

She said it’s important to help families and the community to understand symptoms of mental health problems and to understand mental illness. It’s also important to let the person suffering from mental health problems to understand there is treatment, and there’s no shame in asking for help.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, only one in three African Americans who need mental health help receive it. The APA states much of this is because disparities exist in regard to mental health care services and many minorities often receive poorer quality of care and lack access to culturally competent care.

 “A lot of that goes along with the stigma that surrounds it, but it also has to do with the historical perception,” McQueen said. “It has to do with the history of oppression and violence that has evolved into present-day disparities, including the inadequate access to, and delivery of care for, physical and mental health care.”

One way to help overcome the disparity is spreading the message to bring awareness surrounding mental health, especially when it comes to minorities, McQueen said. Starting the conversation regarding mental health, as well as recognizing family history and the impact of the perception of the rest of the world, is a key component to addressing mental health struggles for minorities.

“It’s having the conversation, bringing the awareness and getting the word out,” McQueen said.

Youth organizations, churches, the faith-based community, community outreach programs are all resources people can turn to for help, or to find out how to access available resources.

“I think it really comes down to caring for other people,” McQueen said. “I see this individual is having a hard time. Let me offer a phone number, let me ask a question.”

McQueen said the COVID-19 pandemic is also contributing to concerns over mental health, in minority communities and around the world.

“Mental health affects us all. It does not discriminate,” she said. “I think we’re all under a lot of undue stress. COVID has additional factors to all of our mental health well-being.”

Dealing with the crisis caused by the pandemic is important. But for many minorities, being able to be heard, and also address issues that stem from current events as well as historical events, adds extra significance on mental health.

“[Mental health care] is crucial year-round,” McQueen said. “This month offered that dedicated time to delve deeper into the stigma regarding mental health discussion across minority communities. We don’t want to forget that marginalized, oppressed and disenfranchised people have unique concerns, trauma, stress, obstacles and challenges because of historical experiences. [Because of] the cultural differences and social disparities, it is vital to have culturally competent professionals providing a safe and trusting environment and to assist in eradicating minority stigma bias and mental health misdiagnosis.”

McQueen said leaders and community members in Jacksonville recently held a forum to discuss issues that unique affect minorities.

“Hurt people need to talk, even if they don’t realize it,” McQueen said. “If I can hear how you feel that is going to help. Just listening. If we can just talk, that starts the healing process, and hopefully, the solution process.”

For more information on Pace, go to pacecenter.org or call (904) 421-8585.

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