Since 2008, July has been named Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a time to bring awareness to mental health conditions that can affect any one of us, regardless of race, color, gender or identity. It’s also a time to work on the cure for stigma, which is known to make access to mental healthcare more difficult for minorities. Here at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital, the Department of Psychiatry has implemented several initiatives to help cure stigma.
BWFH’s Director of Inpatient Psychology and Training Christopher AhnAllen, PhD, says stigma often prevents members of certain communities from seeking mental healthcare. “For example, different communities have different perceptions around masculinity and identifying what it means to have a mental health issue. We see that in the African American community and the Asian American community, where going to treatment is not commonplace. It’s not what their peers are doing. It’s not what their families are approving of,” he says. “Here at BWFH we try to integrate people from diverse backgrounds to engage in discussions around these issues.”
One way in which BWFH is attempting to deal with the issue of stigma and masculinity is through a men’s group on 2 South, the inpatient psychiatric unit. The group is run by a Black male mental health worker. “It is meant to provide a forum for people to talk about men’s issues that are related to mental health issues,” Dr. AhnAllen explains.
Also on 2 South, Press Ganey patient satisfaction surveys now ask for both sex assigned at birth and gender identity. In the past, they simply asked a patient to identify as male or female. And, the care team is now distributing handouts in the language of their patients’ preference. “We are striving to offer equitable treatment by modifying our handouts so that everyone can benefit and participate in the treatment experience,” says Dr. AhnAllen.
Dr. AhnAllen stresses that the biggest barrier to proper mental healthcare for minorities is actually provider stigma. “We know that minority patients tend to have greater challenges associated with finding providers who understand their experience and can integrate issues associated with race, racism and marginalization and still provide the most appropriate care. And we know that people with serious mental illness and people who are minorities tend not to be offered the evidence-based treatments that may be available for everyone else,” he says. “As providers, we need to work to identify our own bias to be able to address it with our patients who are minorities.”
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