While everyone struggles with mental health, people from marginalized communities have unique barriers to psychological and psychiatric care. Though they may have less access to therapy and information, BIPOC communities still have strong support systems among their deep family ties and community cultural practices.

Still, the care gap must be addressed within and outside the mental health community. What particular challenges do BIPOC face when accessing care and treating their mental health issues?

Access to mental health providers

Socioeconomic disparities have a huge impact on access to medical care in the United States. BIPOC groups are less likely to have health insurance. They are also less likely to have access to rainy-day funds to help pay for the huge expense of receiving medical care.

When the barrier to healthcare access is financial, there are also fewer resources for education and learning how to search for doctors, insurance, therapies, and outreach groups.

Discrimination from healthcare providers

Historically, Black people and other marginalized communities have been prejudiced by American medical systems. This has resulted in less communal trust of doctors, therapists, and medication. BIPOC individuals are also less represented in care providers.

Most psychiatric and psychological professionals are White. Consciously or unconsciously, mental health providers sometimes let their own biases dictate how they diagnose and give treatment. When these kinds of missteps are made, BIPOC groups are less likely to feel trust in their healthcare providers.

Racial trauma

Racial trauma or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) is similar to PTSD in how it appears in the mind and body. Symptoms include hypervigilance, insomnia, depression, anxiety, gastrointestinal distress, and low self-esteem. RBTS isn’t a diagnosable disorder, but it’s a particular form of trauma that happens to those living in a prejudiced system.

It can also happen as a result of a particular racist event. These can range from microaggressions to extreme violence. Understanding how to approach RBTS is one way therapists can adequately serve the BIPOC population.

Stigma within marginalized communities

Different cultures understand mental health differently. Because BIPOC individuals face overt struggles in a prejudiced system, mental illness sometimes gets downplayed. These communities sometimes fail to recognize that mental illness is just as real as a physical illness.

There is still the lingering view (among both White and BIPOC populations) that mental illness are personal flaws rather than evidence of systemic and genetic issues. BIPOC folks might be less likely to seek help for fear of internal stigma within their own support

Differences in how cultures experience mental issues

Not everyone shows the exact same symptoms for a given illness. For example, in some communities, depression may manifest symptoms in the body more than in emotional states.

A person suffering from depression may be experiencing aches, pain, and fatigue more than crying often or worrying. This can lead to misdiagnosis, where a physical condition is treated rather than a mental one.

Overcoming these challenges

Providers need to be aware of the complexities of their patients’ lived context. A BIPOC patient is going to come to therapy with drastically different experiences than someone from the dominant culture.

Doctors and therapists should be aware that they shouldn’t expect your patients to do the emotional labor of educating you about their culture. It’s crucial that providers raise awareness about the particular mental health struggles BIPOC communities are prone to. It’s important to give out information about how different mental illnesses might appear bodily and emotionally in BIPOC individuals.

Teaching people to navigate the complicated American health system is also critical to addressing the mental health disparities between BIPOC communities and the dominant culture. Addressing these disparities from many sides will help bridge the treatment gap and help those in crisis.

If you’re looking for ways of understanding how to deal with these challenges, reach out to us to help you.