Closing the treatment gap: Time to address inequality within mental health

Mother and daughter listening to cell phone music on headphones
Mother and daughter listening to cell phone music on headphones

By Sosunmolu Shoyinka, MD
DBHIDS Chief Medical Officer

Two months ago, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and the City of Philadelphia took the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Month to remind residents — especially during this difficult and unprecedented time of COVID-19: “You’re not alone. Help is out there.”

Much has changed in the national dialogue since early May. And now Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, recognized in July of each year, gives us the opportunity to look more closely at overall mental health awareness — and focus on the shortcomings of mental health treatment among minority groups.

Mental health issues are not limited by race, gender, sexual identity, or anything else. Sadly, data suggest that access to mental health care does have limitations. This is particularly the case for minority populations.

Across the United States, minority groups are less likely to have access to mental health services, less likely to use community mental health services, more likely to use emergency departments, and more likely to receive lower quality care, according to a report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. They are also disproportionately impacted by socioeconomic determinants such as housing, food and financial insecurity, inadequate health insurance, exposure to violence, unemployment and lower access to quality education. The disproportionate impact of the COVID pandemic on these groups, due in part to these factors is a poignant testimony to this.

Systemic racism in the United States already puts hurdles before minority groups. But with a pandemic that also affects Black and Hispanic people more than whites, in addition to ongoing justified social unrest, physical isolation, and more, equitable access to mental health care is vitally important.

And Philadelphia is doing everything it can to deliver just that kind of equitable treatment. DBHIDS’ Community Behavioral Health division works directly with providers to bring mental health services to all of those in need, regardless of background. And our site offers free online screenings and evaluations for all residents so they can better understand their own needs before deciding whether to seek further care.

DBHIDS also partnered with Independence Blue Cross and other public and private entities this year to launch to make access to mental health services as easy as possible for all residents. 

DBHIDS works hard to ensure minority residents have fair and equitable access to quality mental health care. We believe in the work we’re doing and the benefit it has to individuals and to the entire population of Philadelphia.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Know that Philadelphia is here to help you. All you have to do is ask. Start here:

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