Historically, African Americans have proffered a negative view toward mental health, in particular issues pertaining to obtaining treatment. Not to mention, across the nation, African Americans are more likely to be misdiagnosed based on standards of behavior that only account for world views defined by western European culture. A new study just published supports these contentions.
The study, which was conducted by the state of California in concert with mental health researchers from several state universities, was based on data collected from 35 focus groups, 45 individual interviews, 635 surveys, and 10 public forums and meetings with residents and mental health professionals from across the state. The report aimed to provide a more complete picture of the African American community’s experience with the state’s mental and behavioral health systems. The issue is of extreme concern for mental health professionals nationwide, because these inaccurate psychiatric assessments are a “part of the problem that leads to disparate outcomes,” the report said.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, African Americans in the United States are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses than their white counterparts. Schizophrenia, for instance has been shown to be over diagnosed in the African American population. Then there is the issue of culture biases against mental health professionals and health care professionals, which in general prevent many African Americans from accessing care due to prior experiences with historical misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment and a lack of cultural understanding. Only 2 percent of psychiatrists, 2 percent of psychologists and 4 percent of social workers in the United States are African American.
Traditionally, African Americans tend to rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than turning to health care professionals, even though this may at times be necessary. The health care providers they seek may not be aware of this important aspect of a person’s life, which may account for the suicide rate for African American men almost six times the rate for African American women. African Americans were 20 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites.
Documented barriers to accessing mental health care described by study participants included a lack of culturally proficient practitioners and providers — also an issue of concern for mental health professionals nationwide. Community distrust is another barrier to accessing mental health care.
The researchers also studied government funding streams directed toward culturally tailored mental health programs for African Americans across the state. This study by the state of California on African Americans mental health disparities is one of five state-commissioned demographic specific studies conducted as part of the California Reducing Disparities Project, all designed to determine how the state will spend $60 million in funds earmarked to address racial and ethnic disparities in mental health.