Why Discrimination is a Behavioral Health Problem

Why Discrimination is a Behavioral Health Problem

Racism, discrimination, and behavioral health are closely linked. People who suffer discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender identity can also suffer increased substance use, anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health conditions as a result. Discrimination can also make accessing effective treatment more difficult..

African-Americans live sicker and die sooner than whites in America. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reports that a black American dies prematurely every seven seconds. In 2018, only 9% of African American adults received mental health services compared with 18.6% of non-Hispanic white adults. In 2017, 16% of Latinos lacked healthcare insurance compared with 6% of non-Hispanic whites. Only 8.8% of Latino adults received mental health services compared with 19% of non-Hispanic white adults.

It’s important to acknowledge that  the everyday racial discrimination embedded in our culture is sickening and killing people of color who often don’t feel welcome in healthcare systems. For Blacks, 32% say they have personally experienced racial discrimination when going to a doctor or a health clinic and 22% have avoided seeking medical care out of concern about discrimination.  Recent studies have found that Latinos are the racial and ethnic group least likely to visit the doctor. More than one-fourth of Latino adults in the U.S. lack a usual healthcare provider and almost half of Latinos never visit a medical professional during the course of the year. An L.A. CADA treatment participant says, “The  clinic is a factory  — in and out as fast as possible. No personal relationship and it feels like I’m a burden on the system as a brown person.” It’s not just avoiding the doctor that can lead to poor health. Not calling the police in an emergency can risk safety and protection for people of color who fear systemic discrimination.

As a healthcare agency, L.A. CADA recognizes that we still have far to go in reducing behavioral health disparities for people of color. The word discrimination often brings to mind historical examples of denial of voting rights, hate crimes or discriminatory practices in housing and criminal justice. But not all discrimination is conscious, intentional or personal. Through staff training and policies, L.A. CADA is working to ensure that our programs feel warm and welcoming to people of color who need treatment for alcohol, drug, and mental health disorders. Our outreach strategies work to reduce the stigma of behavioral health disorders and treatment.  Our goal is to confront discrimination whenever we encounter it as a meaningful effort to eliminating this public health threat.

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