Why does race matter when it comes to mental health?

The mental health crisis in the U.S. is not a new one—the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) estimates that one in five adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness.  While the prevalence rates of most mental health disorders are similar across racial and ethnic groups, there are large inequities in diagnosis and treatment.

High levels of stigma around mental health issues, fears of discriminatory repercussions , as well as limited access to high quality, culturally responsive services, all contribute to persistent inequities in behavioral health treatment. Not to mention mental health care also carries a high cost and is rarely covered by insurance, making it difficult for low-income people of any race or ethnicity to obtain. 

This is why Tony Cárdenas and Eddie Bernice Johnson introduced the Strengthening Mental Health Supports for BIPOC Communities Act, legislation to improve access to health services for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

Image from Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire.

Equity is characterized by providing in relation to need. The bill requires state plans to report to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) information related to services provided that address health inequities within BIPOC communities and outcomes experienced, outreach to and hiring of BIPOC providers from multiple disciplines of mental health services, and training to providers on culturally and linguistically responsive services.

COVID-19 has created challenges that will likely have an effect for years to come. In order to promote the mental wellbeing of our youth Cárdenas introduced the Strengthening Behavioral Health Supports for Schools Act. He also introduced the Crisis Counseling Act, which would automatically approve requests by any state, territory, and tribe for a Crisis Counseling and Training Program (CCP) after it had been granted a Stafford Act declaration. The legislation would remove the bureaucratic hurdles that delayed critical support for communities as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the United States. 

Through these challenging times, we must continue to learn and grow from all our experiences.