Identifying Barriers to Mental Health Care for Minorities
by MATT COBBLE
Sponsored by Central Florida Health Care
Considering everything we have been through over the past 18 months, the importance of mental health has come to the forefront of our national attention. Yet even in this climate of widespread acceptance by the general public, a significant portion of the population faces greater challenges in accessing mental health services.
“Minorities face many difficulties compared to what we consider ‘mainstream’ patients,” said Dr. Ingrid Atiles, licensed clinical psychologist and Director of Behavioral Health for Central Florida Health Care.
(Atiles specified that “minority” is a broad umbrella term encompassing individuals of various identities. For the purposes of this discussion, Atiles clarified she was speaking specifically of ethnic minorities.)
In the Latinx community, for example, Atiles says the stigma surrounding the topic of mental health is quite strong.
“Behavioral health is perceived as not being a problem, so many of those who would consider reaching out are discriminated against from within the community,” Atiles says.
This results in strong peer pressure, keeping potential patients from contacting providers.
Other barriers minorities face when it comes to behavioral health include cost, insurance coverage, access to care and transportation.
Providers at Central Florida Health Care do not deny services to anyone who comes to their clinic, regardless of their insurance coverage.
In the era of COVID-19, teletherapy services have been on the rise. In many cases, this means individuals are able to interact with behavioral health providers from the privacy of their own homes. Atiles explains that unfortunately, this area also shows a disparity between white patients and ethnic minority patients.
“This population has less access to teletherapy services because they have less access to technology and wifi,” she says.
Even for face-to-face services, Latinx patients often run into difficulty accessing transportation. “Driving without a license makes getting to the clinic a risk,” Atiles explains. “This keeps many Latinx customers from accessing care, even if they’re otherwise willing.”
To make matters worse, even if a Latinx patient were to look past the myriad risks and go to the clinic to seek behavioral health services, they face still another barrier to treatment — a language barrier.
“We [Central Florida Health Care] are developing programs to serve migrant and underserved populations,” Atiles says.
For those patients who may be concerned about seeking treatment due to the potential of getting in trouble for either their legal or immigration status, Atiles offers reassurance.
“Doctor/patient confidentiality prevents us from revealing private patient information, except in cases where we believe the patient may be a danger to themselves or others.”
She encourages individuals, regardless of their ethnic background, to consider their mental health. “Much of the lack of treatment of behavioral health conditions stems from a lack of knowledge or awareness. No one has ever said to these patients, ‘I think you may be depressed.’ ”
To this end, Central Florida Health Care is integrating behavioral health into its primary care health services. Primary care providers can screen their patients for mental health issues, regardless of the issue that brought them into the clinic. These patients can then be referred to a mental health provider if an issue is found.