African Americans have limited access to mental and behavioral health care

Of the nearly 34 million people who  identify themselves as African American, 22% of which live in poverty. These individuals are at particular risk for mental health illness due to an overrepresentation in homeless populations, people who are incarcerated, children in foster care and child welfare systems, and victims of serious violent crime. [Surgeon General’s Report: Mental Health, Cultural, Race, Ethnicity, 2001]

African Americans Are At-Risk for Mental and Behavioral Health Problems

  • 40% of youth in the criminal justice system and 45% of children in foster care are African American. [Surgeon General’s Report: Mental Health, Cultural, Race, Ethnicity, 2001] Psychologists can work to eliminate or reduce behaviors prevalent in foster care children, such as aggression, fighting, negativism, and isolation. [APA, Monitor on Psychology 2005]

  • Over 25% of African American youth exposed to violence have proven to be at high risk for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). [Surgeon General’s Report: Mental Health, Cultural, Race, Ethnicity, 2001] Psychologists can teach community intervention methods, such as dialogue and coalition building, as well as interpersonal communication, negotiation, mediation, and community organizing. For traumatic stress, psychologists can encourage youth to contemplate the psychosocial impact of violence, loss, and suffering as well as crisis response skills. [APA, Monitor on Psychology 2001]

  • African Americans are nearly twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.  [Mental Health Services Research, 2000.] Psychologists have become an integral part in programs that help treat schizophrenic patients, allowing them to live normal, independent lives by teaching them to handle the symptoms and effects of schizophrenia, such as voices or delusions.[APA, Monitor on Psychology 2000]

  • African Americans are twice as likely to have diabetes as whites, substantially more likely to die of stroke and around 10% more likely to have some form of heart disease. [HHS Fact Sheet Minority Health Disparities At a Glance, 2005].  Psychologists play an essential role in helping people modify their behavior to prevent and recover from chronic illnesses like these. They have developed treatment and prevention programs for some of America’s most serious behaviorally-based health problems.

Poverty and Social Structures Barriers to Psychological Services

  • Studies show African Americans are just as much at risk for mental illness as their white counterparts, yet receive substantially less treatment. Analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that in 2005, African Americans were 7.3 times a likely to live in high poverty neighborhoods with limited to no access to mental health services. [Surgeon General’s Report: Mental Health, Cultural, Race, Ethnicity, 2001]

  • Nearly 25% of African Americans are uninsured and are also more likely to use emergency and/or primary care specialists. [Surgeon General’s Report: Mental Health, Cultural, Race, Ethnicity, 2001].  However, these professionals lack training in the diagnoses and treatment of mental and behavioral health problems. Psychologists are better trained to identify mental illness and provide psychotherapy to treat disorders. [APA Press Release 2005] 

A Greater Need for Culturally Competent Psychologists

  • According to the 2001 Surgeon General’s Report, African Americans account for just 2% of all psychologists in America today.  Increased funding for African American psychologists, and other mental health providers, would help increase the number of African Americans in treatment; as minority clinicians are more likely to see minority patients with more effective outcomes.  [American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2006]

  • Funding to train more African American psychologists would help to decrease stigma and encourage others to seek mental and behavioral health care when needed. [President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, 2003] Minority psychologists can use their knowledge about the messages that will best resonate with African Americans to help increase awareness, as well as provide culturally competent services that tailor to individual needs. [Monitor on Psychology 2006]

Works Cited

  • Denton, Nancy A. and Anderson, Bridget J. Poverty and Race Research Action Council analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The Opportunity Agenda. 2005.

  • "HHS Fact Sheet: Minority Health Disparities At a Glance." United States Department of Health and Human Services, 2005.

  • Kersting, Karen. "A singular commitment." Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. Vol.36, No. 6, June 2005.

  • McGuire, Patrick A. "New hope for people with Schizophrenia." Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. Vol.31, No. 2, February 2000.

  • "Mental Health: Cultural, Race, Ethnicity." Surgeon General’s Report. US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, SAMHSA. 2001.

  • O’Conner, Elieen M. "From Classroom to Conflict Resloution." Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. Vol. 32, No.8, September, 2001.

  • "President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health." 2003.

  • Psychiatric Disorders Greatly Underdiagnosed In Hospital Emergency Departments, Study Finds. APA Press Release. Public Affairs Office, February 2005.

  • Ronzio, Cynthia R. PhD; Guagliardo, Mark F. PhD; Persaud, Navita MPH, CHES. "Disparity in Location of Urban Mental Service Providers." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. American Psychological Association. Vol. 76, January 2006, p 37-43.

  • Snowden, Lonnie R. "Barriers to Effective Mental Health Services for African Americans." Mental Health Services Research, Vol.3, No. 4, December 2001.

  • Staff. "A call for data collection to eliminate health disparities." APA Monitor on Psychology. Vol.37, No.4, April 2006.