If mental health care resources are not sufficient for the general population, how can underserved groups address their psychiatric needs? What’s the role of Family Nurse Practitioners?
One in six Americans suffers from a diagnosable, treatable mental health condition. However, minority groups — African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and Native Americans — are more likely to experience the risk factors that can cause such disorders. In contrast to their white counterparts, African Americans were more likely to report their depression as being extremely severe and disabling. Native Americans and Alaska Natives have a higher tendency to experience feelings of nervousness and restlessness when compared to non-Hispanic white people.
What’s driving these disparities in minority mental health care? What are the barriers to care?
- Lack of insurance coverage, as more than half of uninsured U.S. residents are people of color
- Logistical barriers, such as taking time off of work, securing child care, or finding transportation to and from appointments
- Linguistic and cultural differences that can result in breakdowns in communication that lead to poorer health outcomes
- Lack of qualified, available professionals to evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions
- Inferior care, because there tends to be little diversity among mental health providers, which then breeds cultural insensitivities that lead to negative health outcomes
- Discrimination by providers and cultural microaggressions, making accurate diagnosis more elusive and timely treatment less likely
- Social determinants of health, including lack of income; statistically, people in minority populations are statistically more likely to straddle the poverty line throughout their lives and are less likely to get help for mental health concerns.
The University of Southern California Department of Nursing online Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) program (“Nursing@USC”), notes the challenges that minorities face in accessing mental health care and how those can be unique when compared among diverse populations. Nursing@USC prepares future FNPs to competently and respectfully help people from different populations. To do so, they educate students about how social determinants of health affect the health care of various populations within the U.S. – both how it is perceived by the patients and families and how it is delivered by the health professionals.
Minority populations experiencing poor mental health sometimes face biases, prejudices, and lack of clinician diversity when trying to obtain care. Studies have shown that minorities are less satisfied with the quality of care they receive because they feel that providers simply do not understand their needs. Health care professionals must evaluate their approach to care and recognize which of the populations they serve may be at risk. Nursing@USC wants their FNPs to consistently bridge that gap and to lead others in doing so.
Nursing@USC is empowering FNP students to collaborate with communities and other health care professionals to alleviate barriers to care. Because primary care providers, including family nurse practitioners, are key to ensuring that all patients receive comprehensive care, it’s incredibly important that the future FNPs enrolled in the program are armed with the knowledge to be resources for those who are vulnerable to the negative health effects of discrimination.
This collaboration needs external supports. Some great starting points to remove barriers to mental health care are to continue to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, as many people won’t seek help because they are embarrassed or scared. Additionally, policy changes can increase mental health care coverage and community-level outreach can help people understand the importance of maintaining good mental health, just as they would physical health. Finally, there could be a significant change in identifying mental illness in minority populations and treating an individual if behavioral health were integrated with primary care.
Nursing@USC is prioritizing both educating a diverse workforce and recognizing the diverse needs of patient populations because it’s important to individuals and the public health.
What do you think?
- Nursing @USC sees family nurse practitioners as key to addressing mental health disparities. How do you view their role?
Allegra Balmadier is a Digital PR Coordinator covering health at 2U Inc., supporting outreach for their public health and nursing programs. For a decade, 2U has been a trusted brand steward and the partner of choice to the world’s top colleges and universities in navigating the complexities of bringing the best of themselves into the digital age. At the foundation of our model is a genuine respect for what makes a university great: a strong and independent faculty, a commitment to academic rigor, and the critical interplay among students and faculty that comes from the intimacy of a live classroom. We believe the best online education must be grounded in these core values — it is the reason why 2U partners have always maintained control over the accreditation process, the curriculum, faculty hiring, admission standards, and decisions about which students are accepted into their programs.