Disparities in mental health care are greater than in most other areas of healthcare services, especially in communities of color. Mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, remain one of the highest health burdens for minorities. The social inequalities for risk appear to increase with age, and the social disadvantages of being Latino in the U.S. increase the risk for common mental disorders across a person’s lifespan.
While barriers to alleviate mental disorders exist for everyone, they are even more pronounced for minorities who might have fewer socioeconomic resources.
Despite the need for mental health services, minorities are not seeking medical care. Even when they do seek treatment, they are less likely to receive adequate mental health care and tend to drop out of treatment two to three times more frequently.
Compounding this problem are the physical health disparities that minorities face: They are 1.2 times more likely to be obese and 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes. Moreover, research shows they are more likely to be sedentary, and they are not pursuing changes in their physical activity. Mental illness often occurs with these chronic, physical illnesses, leading to a high degree of impairment and decreased quality of life.
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The inability to cope with your emotions effectively is a barrier to managing chronic, physical illnesses, such as diabetes, and limits your ability to care for yourself. At the same time, the diagnosis and management of the physical illness can have a significant impact on your emotional health.
Preventing mental disorders holds promise as an approach to decrease both suffering and disparities in mental health services and outcomes. Specifically, there is new and exciting research regarding diet and exercise as a way to prevent mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety.
By treating mental health problems through health and wellness, we are addressing the multiple mental and physical health disparities experienced by minorities. Such an approach could appeal to individuals who have limited access to mental health treatment. It could also be an alternative for those who are who are worried about prescription side effects or are uncomfortable talking to a mental health specialist.
Daniel E. Jimenez, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.