African Americans and Latinos face barriers that prevent many from seeking mental health treatment and often rely on more informal networks for support.
“The number one barrier I would say centers around the stigma of mental health,” said Dr. Patrie Williams, a clinical psychologist with the El Paso Veteran’s Affairs healthcare system. “I think it’s both historically and culturally.”
Instead of seeking professional help some African Americans and Latinos look elsewhere for counseling. “Therapists were not always people who had degrees. Your therapist is your great grandmother or your pastor, or your best friend,” Williams said.
Williams explained that people may also be “hesitant to seek therapy from someone who is a different ethnicity or gender.”
According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), the stigma surrounding mental illness shames those who may need treatment. Some of this shame is internal, while it also comes from the peers and family members according to NAMI.
African Americans and Hispanic Americans each use mental health services at about one-half the rate of Caucasian Americans and Asian Americans at about one-third the rate, according to NAMI.
Other barriers include lack of insurance or access to mental health care. In some cases patients may not have transportation to get to therapy appointments.
Williams said many people have to ask: “Do I have the money to receive these resources?”
But Williams sees some progress. Formerly a therapist at UTEP, she noticed an increase in African American athletes and Latino students using counseling services to seek help.
“As an African American therapist there, with me being there, I saw an increase in African American, black, African descent students coming to seek services. And, when we ran the stats it showed that there was indeed an increase,” she said.
While more people may be seeking out the benefits of therapy, Williams said many still need to take the first steps to help themselves.
“You have to be comfortable enough to and acknowledge you need that and not have that shame” Williams.