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What does 'access' to mental health care really mean?

Priscilla Du Preez

On a recent national survey, Kansas ranked last in the country in access to mental health care. But what does “access” really mean?

Contrary to what you may think, it does not actually refer to a strictly quantifiable measure of the number of mental health practitioners for a given population size, though that does play a part. The bigger issues when determining access are decidedly less simple to calculate. They include things like being able to find a clinician who shares a similar background or experiences, who can empathize with the racial or sexual identity of the client, who provides free or discounted rates, and who can communicate during the appointment in the client’s language of choice.

It is these types of cultural barriers that tend to be the primary inhibitors of minorities receiving culturally competent mental health care, and that result in public health issues disproportionately impacting minority populations. The cost hurdle can often be overcome by utilizing services from a provider in the non-profit sector. But finding multi-lingual, multi-cultural therapists with a broad base of experiential expertise is difficult in even the most favorable of employment situations. Ensuring everyone can receive the care they need involves reviewing local therapists’ backgrounds and specialties, and asking medical providers how or if they are acting to address these shortcomings.

Links to mental health resources are at MHANational.org.

Eric Litwiller has served the south central Kansas community through his work at Mental Health Association since September of 2017. As Director of Development and Communications, he is charged with seeking the private investment required to raise awareness of the scope of mental health concerns throughout the region in an effort to eliminate the unfair stigma associated with mental illness.