Minority Mental Health

In a nation historically known as a melting pot of immigrants from around the world, people from ethnic minority groups comprise the fastest-growing segment of the older population. July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month, and this is an area that we need to make a concentrated effort to focus on.

A study published in 2012 by the Institute of Medicine combined four 2-year sets of data of large-scale surveys of families and their medical providers across the U.S. The results show that of the 1,658 participants (981 white, 303 black, 374 Latino) aged 60 and older there was a disparity in mental health service use for racial and ethnic minority elderly adults.

Treatment initiation and adequacy were lower for blacks and Latinos than whites. Latinos experienced “episodes of longer duration, more visits, and higher expenditures.” Blacks had greater rates of episodes with only outpatient visits. The results suggest that there is a need for culturally-appropriate interventions to engage older black and Latinos in mental health care.

Studies of young adults of ethnic minority groups show that there is a lower rate of mental health illness in ethnic minority groups than there is in non-Latino whites. The same can be said of the differences between the demographics as the population ages. Older non-Latino whites have higher rates of mental health problems than older Asian, African-American and Afro-Caribbean adults.

However, other studies show that older Latinos are just as likely as non-Latino whites to have mental health problems, and in a year-long study, Latinos show higher rates of depression than non-Latino whites. Older Latinos who immigrated to the U.S. had higher rates of anxiety and a mood disorder characterized by chronic mildly depressed or irritable moods often accompanied by other symptoms such as sleep disturbances, fatigue and poor self-esteem (dysthymic disorder) than non-Latino whites and higher rates of anxiety than American-born Latinos. Likewise, studies show that older Asian immigrants had higher lifetime rates of anxiety than American-born Asians. Immigrant status and age at time of immigration are both factors that affect risks of mental health problems later in life.

Everybody faces challenges unique to their community. The key is to be aware of what needs to be addressed and to be proactive to make changes to make resources more readily accessible and to raise awareness of what organizations are out there to help. The hashtag #HopeStartsWithYou is trending on social media and can pull in more resources for those interested in finding out more about what they can do.

To access more information and resources, visit the following websites:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Minority Mental Health Awareness

Disparities in mental health service use of racial and ethnic minority elderly adults