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Minority populations experience access to mental health care differently

Melanie Kreutz

With Kansas ranking last in the nation in a comprehensive study of mental health for two years in a row, it’s easy to think that it’s a function of access. And to some extent, that’s true. Large swaths of the state are sparsely populated, making practitioners hard to find. But the same is true of Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and many more. Yet those states have a better overall mental health picture than the Sunflower State.

Access is more than just geographic. For minority populations, access means the ability to receive culturally competent care. Does my therapist understand my upbringing? Do they share my experiences? Do they speak my native language? Might their subconscious biases influence their diagnosis or treatment plan? If a racial or sexual minority cannot find a therapist who shares their background and can empathize with their needs, that is still a question of access. And it’s a huge part of why minorities struggle with mental health concerns; often at much greater rates than the general population.

And this bias is borne out by the numbers. Black men in the United States are diagnosed with schizophrenia at a rate four times higher than white male counterparts due to clinician’s over-emphasis on the psychotic symptoms while ignoring depressive symptoms. Similarly, youth of color are significantly more likely to be directed to the juvenile justice system, as compared to the specialty care institutions to which white youth are more often referred. These are just two examples of the importance of being more sensitive to the diagnostic needs of minorities throughout our state.

Look for therapist biographies and areas of specialty on providers websites, and if you struggle to find what you need, consider a career in mental health yourself.

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.