African Americans Perceptions of Mental Health
and the Implications for Health Service Delivery
As discussed in class, little advancement has been made in the field of mental health care over the past two decades. Rates of mental illness continue to be high especially among certain subgroups, but progress has been stunted by stigma and social environmental issues. Mental health disparities, like many other health disparities, are embedded within a trend of socioeconomic differences (Miranda, McGuire, Williams, & Wang, 2008). Racial and class disparities exist among those afflicted by mental health issues whereas minorities and lower income individuals have higher rates (Miranda et al., 2008). Therefore, in this paper I will discuss the adverse effects of social and environmental factors on the mental health of African Americans and mental health service utilization among this population. I posit that individual convictions amplify the more obvious institutional and economical barriers to access. Disparate Rates of Negative Social and Environmental Factors among African Americans and the Connection to Mental Health
Nearly 22% of African Americans live in poverty (Miranda et al., 2008) and simultaneously experience overrepresentation in homeless populations, incarceration, foster care, victims of violent crimes, and child welfare systems (APA, 2012). Poverty level affects mental health status (Office of Minority Health [OMH], 2012). Living under these stressful conditions, African Americans suffer disparate mental health outcomes (Miranda et al., 2008). African Americans living in poverty are three times more likely than African Americans twice above the poverty level to report psychological stress (OMH, 2012). In general African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites (OMH, 2012). African American and Mental Health Service Utilization
Considering that African Americans suffer from such high rates of mental health illnesses, it is important to understand mental health service utilization patterns among this population. Research studies have shown that African Americans are not making use of available mental health resources (Mental Health America [MHA], 2012). Subsequently, research has been devoted to understanding the causes of these trends. Most studies focus on economic barriers as causal factors; however, over the past few decades, research has begun to examine ways in which social attitudes and perceptions affect the likelihood of African Americans to seek mental health care (Diala, Mutaner, Walrath, Nickerson, LaVeist, & Leaf, 2000). The rest of this paper is devoted to highlighting some of that research. Though African Americans face many barriers to access of mental health treatment, arguably the most challenging barriers are the individual barriers—the attitudes and assumptions that deter African Americans from utilizing mental health services. Attitudes and Beliefs
African Americans have less positive attitudes towards seeking professional mental health care than Whites, and as a result, they use fewer services (Diala et al., 2000). Stigma associated with mental illness and treatment seeking deters African Americans from exploring what mental health services are available to them. In one study, 76% of respondents felt that “stigma played some role in initially preventing them from seeking voluntary mental health treatment, either by keeping them from recognizing they had problems requiring professional help, or as a deterrent from seeking services when they realized they did have a problem”. (Alvidrez, Snowden, & Kaiser, 2008). The cultural attitudes and beliefs of African Americans has resulted in stigma around mental health services that deters them from seeking treatment....