Linda Lopez

Submitted Photo

In 2008 the U.S. House of Representatives declared July National Minority Health Awareness Month in honor of Bebe Moore Campbell, a leading African American writer of the 20th century, who died in 1996.

Moore Campbell was a national spokesperson for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. While the trend is getting better on some selected access and quality indicators, in other areas treatment for mental health issues for minorities has not.

A 2012 analysis of 30,000 youth found that "disparities in use of mental health services persist for black and Latino children," with 10 percent of white youth using mental health care while only 4 percent to 5 percent of black and Latino do so. The money spent for mental health care for white children increased while for Latino children it decreased significantly.

The issue is not just in access but in mental health status. African Americans are 20 percent more likely than whites to report psychological distress but are more than two times less likely to receive antidepressants.

The Surgeon General found that among African Americans the suicide rate for children between the ages of 10 to 14 increased 233 percent from 1980 to 1995. Additionally, suicide is the third highest cause of death in 15-year-old to 24-year-old African American males behind homicide and accidents, according to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control.

Suicide rates for American Indians in the 15-to-39 age range continue to be two to three times higher than in other population groups. And suicide ideation and suicide rates continue to increase with age in the Asian American population.

So what are the causes of these disparities? Language and cultural barriers, poverty and lack of health insurance are big contributors. African Americans and Latinos who live below the poverty level are three times more likely to report psychological stress than those who are living at over twice the poverty level. And over half of the uninsured population in the United States is minorities.

The Affordable Care Act supports several strategies to address these disparities. In addition to expanding coverage, including behavioral health coverage, the ACA has provisions for integrating mental health and primary care. Minority populations are more likely to access services in primary care settings. Across Arizona behavioral health providers are working with health insurance companies to integrate care.

In addition, behavioral health providers in Arizona are striving to ensure that the care they provide is culturally competent by ensuring that staff members understand and respond to cultural and linguistic differences and that clinics are welcoming to diverse populations. For example, at La Frontera Arizona all staff are required to receive annual training in cultural competency. Also, the agency works diligently to ensure that staff reflects the populations we serve both culturally and linguistically.

Eliminating disparities is good for all of us, not just minority populations. Improving access to and quality of behavioral health care for minorities means greater economic output for individuals and families and better academic outcomes for children and youth, which leads to a better economy overall in Arizona.

Linda Lopez is a state senator representing District 2 and is the community relations coordinator at La Frontera Arizona.