This month is National Minority Health Month.
National Minority Health Month has its origins in April 1915, when Dr. Booker T. Washington instituted the first National Minority Health Month in an effort to encourage members of the African-American community to better take care of their health. He asked local health departments, schools, places of worship, and businesses to help him spread the word. Years later, the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, along with the CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, officially recognized National Minority Health Month in an effort to advance health equity across all communities in America, especially among racial and ethnic minorities. “Advancing health equity” means ensuring everyone has the opportunity to stay as healthy as possible.
Racial Health Disparities in the U.S.
According to the most recent Census, almost 40% of U.S. citizens belong to a racial or ethnic minority group. These minority communities often have disproportionately high numbers of illnesses and carry the majority burden of preventable diseases.
For example, here are a few startling statistics of racial health disparities in the U.S.:
- African-American people are disproportionally vulnerable to medical conditions such as heart disease and asthma.
- African-American women have an alarmingly high mortality rate.
- Hispanic children and adolescents have disproportionately high rates of obesity.
- In Native American communities, the infant mortality rate in is 60 percent higher than in Caucasian communities.
- African-American and American Indian/Alaska Native females have higher rates of stroke-related death than other females.
- Mexican-Americans suffer disproportionately from diabetes
- Mortality rates for Native Americans are almost 50 percent higher than that of their white counterparts.
You can find more examples of racial health disparities here.
Mental Health Disparities in the U.S.
Of course, when we talk about minority health, that also includes mental health. Just like there are disparities in the prevalence of physical illness among minority groups, disparities in the prevalence of mental illness also exist.
treatment programs for teens
- Are more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers. The rates are 9.8% are 6.1% respectively – more than a 3% difference.
- Are twice as likely to die from suicide if they are children. Suicide rates in African American children aged 5-11 yearshave increased steadily since the 1980s. They’re now double those of their Caucasian counterparts.
- Are 20% more likely than Caucasians to experience mental health issues such as depression, ADHD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal ideation
Native American teenagers:
- Have the highest rates of suicide among any other racial or ethnic group
- Are more likely than other racial and ethnic groups to die by unintentional injury (12.6% of all deaths)
- Experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general U.S. population
- Experience psychological distress 1.5 times more often than the general U.S. population
- Experience higher rates of depression and suicidal behavior compared to their peers
- Are less likely to receive mental health treatment than Caucasian adolescents
Risk Factors for Minority Health Inequalities
Larisa Karvon, LCSW, Clinical Program Director of Evolve Treatment Centers San Jose, believes health inequalities are upsetting but unsurprising given the multiple risk factors associated with minorities.
For example, one factor is poverty. Minority groups often have high rates of poverty. This makes it difficult to find safe, affordable, and quality housing. This can lead to overcrowded conditions and increased exposure to illness. Poverty also becomes a barrier to accessing quality healthcare. Members of minority racial and ethnic groups often have less access to health insurance or culturally competent doctors who can understand their unique background. This means that even when they do get sick, they may not get treatment as quickly – if they get treatment at all.
Another factor that contributes to racial health inequality is discrimination. Evidence shows that healthcare professionals sometimes display bias when treating individuals of minority racial groups. For example, one study has shown that doctors’ pain assessments and treatment recommendations towards African-American patients are consistently biased.
In the 21st century, it’s hard to believe bias on this level exists. Nevertheless, here’s what the study authors reported about bias among doctors assessing pain:
“The present work sheds light on a heretofore unexplored source of racial bias in pain assessment and treatment recommendations within a relevant population (i.e., medical students and residents), in a context where racial disparities are well documented (i.e., pain management). It demonstrates that beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites—beliefs dating back to slavery—are associated with the perception that black people feel less pain than do white people and with inadequate treatment recommendations for black patients’ pain.”
Unequal treatment in the healthcare system leads to members of minority groups developing a general mistrust of healthcare providers or having negative experiences when seeking treatment. Because these individuals are less likely to go back to the doctor when ill, the cycle continues.
Theme for 2021: #VaccineReady
With these factors in mind, it’s easy to understand why minority populations in the U.S. have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. While the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted – and is currently impacting – millions of lives around the world, evidence shows that many racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. are at increased risk of getting sick, experiencing more severe symptoms, and dying from the coronavirus.
This is why this year’s theme for National Minority Health Month is appropriate:
According to the CDC’s Office of Minority Health, this year’s theme was chosen to highlight the need for these vulnerable communities to get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to beat this pandemic and restore health and quality of life to people on a grand scale – and, in doing so, help fight the health disparities crippling our nation.
Improving Minority Health
Another way to help improve minority health is simply by raising awareness about racial health disparities and encouraging everyone – no matter their race, skin color, ethnicity, or background – to do whatever they can to take care of their health. Exercising regularly, eating healthy meals, avoiding drugs/alcohol, and sleeping adequately are just a few actions people can take to improve their overall health and prevent themselves from getting sick.
Knowledge is power. The more you know about taking care of your health, the more likely you will be to actually treat yourself well.
Of course, once a person is sick, then the very next step should be treatment.
Stigma against receiving help – whether it’s treatment for a physical illness or treatment for a mental health issue – often results in a treatment gap. Less people receiving treatment means more people with ongoing health issues.
Awareness, though, reduces the stigma attached to treatment. That’s why National Minority Health Month is so important. Sharing facts about racial health disparities spreads awareness about this important issue – and improves overall health and wellness for everyone.