• Yona Remer

Racial injustice & Mental Health Access in Los Angeles

In the last two week, hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets of Los Angeles and dozens of other cities in protest of several high-profile deaths of Black Americans at the hands of police. In the process Americans have confronted a legacy of institutional racism and police brutality that dates back over 400 years. In moments of introspection, such as these, it is important to consider all the avenues in which institutionalized racism have adversely affected minority communities.

In a city characterized by its diversity and widespread socioeconomic disparities, Los Angeles has tasked its police force with overly broad mandates and services otherwise rendered by mental health professionals and community members. As such, building more robust, equitable and sustainable solutions for communities of color, will likely start with better understanding the failures of the local institutions ability to provide much-needed community services.

Mental health remains a critical yet exceptionally underfunded service that disproportionately affects communities of color. A 2018 California Health Report Survey studied mental health utilization data and yielded a long-suspected truth: people of color are far less likely to access mental health than white counterparts. Like many other American institutions, the US healthcare system has a troubled legacy, especially when it comes to accessible care for minority communities. However, as we prepare to re-envision our systems to better serve those who have been historically disenfranchised, it is important to understand the current roadblocks.

● African Americans are more prone to be misdiagnosed and are more likely to be over-diagnosed with schizophrenia and under-diagnosed with mood disorders

● Minority communities are more likely to delay or fail to seek treatment

● Among adults with a diagnosable issue, whites accessed mental health treatment at a rate of 37.6%, but only 22.4% of Latinos and 25% of African Americans received care

● African Americans constitute only 3% of psychiatrists and 2% of psychologists

● Racial minorities are more likely to be the product of explicit and implicit biases from mental health providers when seeking access to care

● In Los Angeles, especially, low-income neighborhoods are more likely to be mental health deserts-- completely devoid of mental health providers and clinics.

Meaningful efforts to promote greater access to mental health start with ensuring that minority communities are better represented and feel empowered to seek care in their moments of need. This obviously begins with encouraging more people of color to seek careers in mental health services. Educational grants and start-up capital to open practices for clinicians from minority communities will help promote greater diversity among the providers of Los Angeles. Local governments can play a role in advancing funding in neighborhoods traditionally underserved communities. Moreover, the existing mental health profession can simultaneously benefit from robust training. Better understanding the experiences of minority clients and their hardships will serve to remove implicit biases that providers harbor and help promote a common language and dialogue between white mental health professionals. Lastly, educational efforts to reduce mental health stigma, promote psychoeducation and support those in need in seeking access to care are badly needed.

As we work to create a more equitable future that acknowledges the history of biases and discrimination that minority communities face, a more inclusive and accessible mental health system will undoubtedly help our country heal.

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