Supporting Mental Health for All: Promoting Awareness, Reducing Barriers

Jawad I. Chaudhry, MD, is a psychiatrist and serves as the Section Chief, Adult Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

In honor of National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in July, Inova is helping to shine a light on the specific challenges communities of color and other marginalized groups face in acknowledging mental health issues and accessing mental healthcare delivered with cultural humility.

The problem affects millions. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projections, by 2044 more than half of the country’s population will belong to one or more minoritized groups. About one in five Americans suffer from a mental health disorder, and mental health challenges are a leading cause of disability in the U.S.

What factors lead to mental health disparities for minoritized communities?

Marginalized populations are extremely diverse, and correspondingly, the factors representing barriers to care are varied. Some examples include:

  • Stigma – feeling that they’ll be judged or shamed for their mental health concern, feeling weak or “less than” because they are seeking treatment
  • Barriers to care, including language barriers, cost of care, care lacking in cultural humility
  • Disparities in social determinants of health, including income and education levels, food and housing security, employment, neighborhood safety, and healthcare access and quality, among others
  • Fear of racism or discrimination at home, school, work or in the community
  • Distrust in the healthcare system, which can be compounded by language difficulties that can make individuals feel that they’re not being heard or well understood

“As a psychiatrist, I see patients on a daily basis who are members of a minoritized population who are facing challenges of living with a mental health disorder, who are facing a stigma, and who are also facing disparities in access to care,” said Jawad Chaudhry, MD, Section Chief, Adult Inpatient Behavioral Health Unit, Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Addressing social or cultural stigma can be difficult. “Members of minoritized groups tend to face a larger stigma. When people are addressing an issue they don’t feel is a true medical concern, they tend to worry about how members of their families and communities will view them,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “The fact that there is little to no representation in mainstream media exacerbates this stigma, leading to shame and a reluctance to seek care.”

Uncertainty regarding mental healthcare access – how and where to get care – can create a significant barrier as well, bringing up concerns that can include:

  • Can I afford treatment?
  • Will there be a provider who can address my concern, who knows my culture, who speaks my language?
  • What if my medications aren’t affordable? How can I get my prescriptions filled?
  • What do I do to seek inpatient behavioral health services/hospitalization? Will I be heard and understood by the providers there?
  • How will my loved ones understand my condition and treatment?

What can be done to help? And what is Inova doing to help?

The first step, according to Dr. Chaudhry, is to help patients feel comfortable acknowledging that they are facing a mental health concern that needs treatment. “It’s important to validate and acknowledge the patient’s mental health concern and to help them engage in receiving treatment, just as they would do for any other medical concern,” Dr. Chaudhry said.

Second, it’s important to connect patients with available resources to help break down the barriers that make it more difficult to access care. Examples include:

  • Providing language services for a wide variety of languages
  • Offering help with prescriptions, both financial assistance and culturally competent pharmacy resources
  • Encouraging primary care providers to integrate mental health screening into their patient care
  • Assisting with referrals to appropriate community outreach programs

Inova Behavioral Health Services is committed to providing quality mental healthcare for everyone. “Inova is emphasizing culturally competent care, language services and inclusivity in our inpatient and outpatient behavioral health settings,” Dr. Chaudhry said. “We’re focusing on psychoeducation, approaching it in a multidisciplinary way so people can feel welcomed, and understood, and helped as well.”

How to get help

Here are a few ways to connect with available mental health resources:

It can be challenging and frightening to take the first step toward dealing with a mental health issue, but the benefits are huge. “Appropriate mental health care can help people get the right diagnosis, understand their condition, and manage that condition effectively. A first step is to consult your primary care provider who can also provide referrals to an appropriate professional who is trained in addressing social or cultural stigma alongside mental health care,” Dr. Chaudhry said.

If you are dealing with feelings of depression, anxiety or chronic stress, a mental health professional can help you to develop the tools to help improve your mental wellbeing.

To learn more about Inova Behavioral Health Services, call 571-623-3500.

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