April is National Minority Health Month. This year’s theme is Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity. This theme represents a continued focus on the value of prevention and the ways in which we can increase access and education for more people. Mental health issues can be tricky. There is a stigma associated with mental illness that is pervasive, and this prevents many people from seeking appropriate care. This can be especially difficult in minority populations, especially those with cultural norms that see going to the doctor for anything, especially mental illness, as a negative.

It is well-documented that chronic pain and mental disorders go hand-in-hand. Here are ten facts about mental illness with a special focus on chronic pain and how they both affect minority populations.

1. Mental illness can happen to anyone

Just under 19% of all adults in the U.S. suffer from some sort of mental illness, with women one and a half times more likely than men to be diagnosed.

Of those with mental illness, the breakdown by race is as follows:

  • American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN): 28.3%
  • Caucasian: 19.3%
  • African American: 18.6%
  • Hispanic: 16.3%
  • Asian: 13.9%
  • Two or more races: 20.7%

2. Serious mental illness occurs more often in minorities than in whites

While Hispanics have a lower prevalence of mental illness in the U.S., they are more likely than Caucasians to have a serious mental illness (4.4% for Hispanics compared to 4.2% for whites). American Indians/Alaska Natives have double the rate of serious mental illness (8.5%) as Caucasians. A serious mental illness is one that significantly impacts or interferes with daily life and activities.

3. Minorities have less access to quality healthcare

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD. Satcher had this to say about the disparity in access to mental health services and its consequences:

“There are major disparities in access, use, and quality of mental health services for racial and ethnic minorities. Minorities are less likely to receive mental health care, and when they do receive it the quality of [that] care is not good. Minority populations experience greater disability from mental illness than their majority counterparts. This is not because they have more mental illnesses but because they lack access to care. The failure to address these inequities is being played out in human and economic terms across the nation — on our streets, in homeless shelters, public health institutions, prisons, and jails.”

4. Minorities access mental healthcare at a lower rate than whites

As of 2010, African Americans and Hispanics used mental health services at half the rate of whites, and Asian Americans at about one third of the rate.

5. Mental illness begins early

One half of all mental illness is classified as able to be diagnosed by age 14, and three-quarters of mental illness is diagnosed by age 24. This makes early intervention and access to care crucial for successful treatment.

6. Race and ethnicity contribute to mental illness in the U.S

…but not in the way you might think. In fact, minorities in the United States “face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism, discrimination, violence, and poverty, all of which take a toll on mental health.” This is also evident in recent immigrants who experience a rise in mental health issues the longer they are in the United States.

7. Suicide causes more deaths in the United States than homicide

Approximately 90% of all of those who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people ages 15-24.

8. Chronic health conditions and mental illness can be congruent

Mental illness and chronic pain go hand-in-hand, with a statistically significant increase in the likelihood of developing one as a result of the other. Additionally, 23% of suicides tested positive for antidepressants, and nearly 21% tested positive for opiates, including prescription pain medications. As a result, people living with mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than someone who is not faced with this condition.

9. The stigma of mental illness prevents people from seeking (or completing) treatment

Nearly 40% of people who are diagnosed with mental illness do not seek treatment or complete prescribed treatment due to the stigma associated with mental illness, especially in minority communities. Psychological scientist Patrick W. Corrigan of the Illinois Institute of Technology, lead author on the report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science believes that this stigma is as dangerous as mental illness itself.

He notes:

“The prejudice and discrimination of mental illness is as disabling as the illness itself. It undermines people attaining their personal goals and dissuades them from pursuing effective treatments.”

10. A collaborative, culturally-sensitive approach to mental health care works best

Numerous studies show that when mental health care is accessible, based on a collaborative approach, and culturally-sensitive, patients are more likely to seek treatment and follow through with a treatment plan.

Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website to find events near you that are happening during National Minority Health Month.

Image by Army Medicine via Flickr


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