Bias Left Untreated: African Americans and Mental Health

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This crowd represents the disproportionate number of African Americans there are in health care professions. In fact, less than two percent of psychiatrist and psychologist are African American. Photo by Mrs. Gemstone.

     In the United States, African Americans are less likely to receive accurate diagnoses of mental health than their Caucasian peers. The issue exists on a much wider scale that cannot be covered in a single blog post. Because of cultural bias, lack of cultural understanding, and social circumstances, untreated mental health problems with African Americans still persists.

     Mental health is stigmatized and misunderstood within the African American community. African Americans will often rely on family, religious and social communities for emotional support rather than see a mental health professional, according to studies from National Alliance of Mental Illness. And when African Americans do seek treatment it is usually through primary care doctors rather than through speciality care. These primary care doctors are not equipped with the right type of education to deliver an accurate diagnosis. Often, patients will be given a misdiagnosis; for example, Schizophrenia is over diagnosed in the African American population.

Shown is a foster home in southern Texas. Forty-five percent of foster children are African American. Photo by Kewing

Shown is a foster home in southern Texas. Forty-five percent of foster children are African American. Photo by Kewing

     On the other hand, there is a cultural bias against health care professionals preventing African Americans from accessing health care. Prior experiences, a track record of misdiagnoses, lack of cultural understanding, and poor treatment influence an African American’s decision to avoid health care. In fact, less than two percent of psychiatrists and psychologists are African American, leading to an institutional bias against common understanding. This isn’t to say that all African Americans share the same experiences, but cultural understanding is crucial in the treatment of patients. African Americans are disportionately more likely to experience social circumstances that increase their chances of promoting a mental illness. Forty-five percent of children in foster care are African American, a system that increases a person’s odds of developing a mental illness.

     One way to overcome this issue is to develop an overall awareness of cultural and ethnic differences, such as perceptions of mental illness and predispositions to it. Health care professionals must simply ask more questions before diagnosing a patient. There also needs to be a discussion in the African American community to decrease social stigma against the medical establishment.

     This information did not discuss socio economic issues among African Americans as well.

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One thought on “Bias Left Untreated: African Americans and Mental Health

  1. Pingback: The difference between African descendants and African Americans « BGTV MEDIA ONLINE

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