A poll of Black women and Latinas across California sponsored by Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and Hispanas Organized for Political Equality (HOPE)® found that 77% are experiencing some form of discrimination due to “personal characteristics,” including race or ethnicity, assumptions about income or education, and/or physical appearance.
“We have known that racism and discrimination take a toll on the mental health of our communities, and now we must factor in the disproportionate and lingering effects of the pandemic on communities of color,” said LaNiece Jones, Executive Director of BWOPA.
“What matters now is that we don’t sweep these added challenges aside but treat these barriers in mental health care for what they are, a crisis in care that must be urgently addressed,” Jones added.
The historic poll was conducted by Los Angeles-based public opinion research firm EVITARUS.
Responses were recorded from 800 Black and Latina women across California and the finding give insights about the most important concerns that they face with their families, accessibility of mental health services, preferences for providers, and priorities for approaches to create greater equity in the provision of mental health care.
Experts widely agree that the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an unprecedented global mental health crisis. People of color, young people, women, and those with low incomes are most at risk of mental health challenges before and after the pandemic, compounded by the added weight of a heightened economic crisis and instability, as well as more visible expressions of White Supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-immigrant sentiment and hate crimes aimed at communities of color.
The current social and economic climate creates a distinctive set of pressures on Black women and Latinas. Thirty-four percent cite finances or issues related to inadequate income as the top concerns facing their households. Safety, health, and housing also rank as chief concerns.
More than 3 in 5 respondents reported having a mental health concern for which they did not seek care from a provider. They attributed this to various barriers, citing travel expenses, length of travel time to appointments and inability to take time off work. Women without coverage for mental health services, those with mental health conditions, younger women, and those covered through Medi-Cal reported the highest rates of untreated needs.
The women that did seek help reported often having negative experiences. Seventy percent of Black women and 54 % of Latinas reported racial or ethnic discrimination. Another 59 % of Black women and 55 % of Latinas reported “assumptions people make about your income or level of education.” Forty percent of Latinas reported discrimination based on “assumptions about their ability to communicate in English” and 28 % reported “assumptions about your documentation of immigration status.” Several other types of discrimination were reported, particularly relating to class, faith, size, and accent.
“Our research draws a direct line between the challenges in accessing mental health care for Latinas and Black women to the shortage of mental health professionals that share our backgrounds,” said Helen Torres, CEO of HOPE. “The data is a call to action for healthcare providers and educational institutions to address the negative impacts of a healthcare workforce that does not represent the communities it serves. We must take steps to close the representation gap and provide better care to all.”
Nearly half of respondents reported difficulty finding access to a mental health provider.
Fifty-seven percent of Black or African American women and 38 % of Latina women said that it was extremely important or very important to have providers of the same background, but more than half said it is difficult to find a provider who shares their values or comes from a similar background. According to the Medical Board of California, only four percent of active psychiatrists practicing in California are Latino and only two percent are Black.
The ability to find a therapist with shared values and offering low-cost services were the most commonly reported barriers, though many also reported difficulty finding providers and services covered by their insurance. Insurance acceptance was the most documented problem across all age groups, underscoring the widespread unaffordability of mental health care.
Disparities in women’s health are well documented at almost every level of health care. Mental health is no different.
The mental health crisis is not specific to adults. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 15-19, according to a 2019 study on mortality. Suicide rates among Black youth have been rising for more than a decade, most sharply among Black girls. According to a 2021 report, approximately one third of young Latinas seriously contemplate suicide.
Long-existing disparities in maternal health are also present with relation to mental health. Women of color suffer from higher rates of postpartum depression compared to White women. They also have a lower rate of screening and treatment for post-partum mood disorders.
The study recommended increased funding to address the barriers to getting adequate care, development of programs, scholarships and financial aid to increase the pipeline of Black women and Latinas in mental health related fields, which, experts say, will increase the number of mental health advocates and promotors who can work to help women navigate the system, and expand awareness among communities of color about the benefits of seeking help or support when facing mental health challenges.