African Americans & Mental Health

African Americans & Mental Health

African Americans with mental health needs are unlikely to receive treatment—even less likely than the under treated mainstream population…

Let’s Talk Facts About Mental Health in the African American Community

African American communities across the United States are more culturally diverse now that any other time in history with increasing numbers of immigrants from African nations, the Caribbean, Central America and other countries. To ensure African American communities have access to adequate and affordable care, a better understanding of the complex role that cultural backgrounds and diverse experiences play in mental disorders in these communities is vital.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these and other diverse communities are underserved by the nation’s mental health system. For example, one out of three African Americans who need mental health care receives it. Compared to the general population, African Americans are more likely to stop treatment early and are less likely to receive follow-up care. Despite recent efforts to improve mental health services for African Americans and other culturally diverse groups, barriers remain in access to and quality of care from, insurance coverage to culturally competent services. For those with insurance, coverage for mental health services and substance use disorders is substantially lower than coverage for other medical illnesses such as hypertension and diabetes. Historically, mental health research has been based on Caucasian and European based populations, and did not incorporate understanding of racial and ethnic groups and their beliefs, traditions and value systems. Culturally competent care is crucial to improving utilization of services and effectiveness of treatment for these communities.

Culture, which is understood to be a combination of common heritage beliefs, values and rituals are an important aspect of racial and ethnic communities. African Americans are a resilient people who have withstood enslavement and discrimination to lead productive lives and build vibrant communities. Throughout U.S. history, the African American community has faced inequities in accessing education, employment, and health care. However, strong social, religious, and family connections have helped many African Americans overcome adversity and maintain optimal mental health. Many Americans, including African Americans, underestimate the impact of mental disorders. Many believe symptoms of mental illnesses, such as depression, are “just the blues.” Issues of distrust in the health care system and mental illness stigma frequently lead African Americans to initially seek mental health support from non-medical sources. Often, African Americans turn to family, church and community to cope. The level of religious commitment among African Americans is high. In one study, approximately 85 percent of African Americans respondents described themselves as “fairly religious” or “religious” and prayer was among the most common way of coping with stress. Because African Americans often turn to community – family, friends, neighbors, community groups and religious leaders – for help, the opportunity exists for community health services to collaborate with local churches and community groups to provide mental health care and education to families and individuals. Studies have shown that family participation in a support group or a church group can improve the family’s ability to care for family members with mental disorders and cope with the emotional distress of being a
caregiver.

Rates of mental illnesses in African American communities are similar to those of the general population. Most individuals are able to maintain good mental health. However, many are in desperate need of mental health treatment. Culturally diverse groups often bare a disproportionately high burden of disability resulting from mental disorders. This disparity does not stem from a greater prevalence rate or severity of illness in African Americans, but from a lack of culturally competent care, and receiving less or poor quality care. For some disorders, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, there is a high probability of misdiagnosis because of differences in how African Americans express symptoms of emotional distress. And while the rate of substance use among African American is lower than other ethnicities, alcohol and drugs are responsible for more deaths in the African American community than any other chronic disease in the U.S.

Rates of mental illnesses in African American communities are similar to those of the general population. Most individuals are able to maintain good mental health. However, many are in desperate need of mental health treatment. Culturally diverse groups often bare a disproportionately high burden of disability resulting from mental disorders. This disparity does not stem from a greater prevalence rate or severity of illness in African Americans, but from a lack of culturally competent care, and receiving less or poor quality care. For some disorders, such as schizophrenia and mood disorders, there is a high probability of misdiagnosis because of differences in how African Americans express symptoms of emotional distress. And while the rate of substance use among African American is lower than other ethnicities, alcohol and drugs are responsible for more deaths in the African American community than any other chronic disease in the U.S.

Cultural identity encompasses distinct patterns of belief and practices that have implications for one’s willingness to seek treatment from and to be adequately served by mental health care providers. More research must be done to better understand mental health disparities and to develop culturally competent interventions for African Americans. With proper diagnosis and treatment, African Americans – like other populations – can increasingly better manage their mental health and lead healthy, productive lives.

© Copyright 2008 American Psychiatric Association/See IGBATMHO Disclaimer

Introduction

Depression can strike anyone, but people with diabetes, a serious disorder that afflicts an estimated 16 million Americans,1 may be at greater risk. In addition, individuals with depression may be at greater risk for developing diabetes. Treatment for depression helps people manage symptoms of both diseases, thus improving the quality of their lives.

Several studies suggest that diabetes doubles the risk of depression compared to those without the disorder.2 The chances of becoming depressed increase as diabetes complications worsen. Research shows that depression leads to poorer physical and mental functioning, so a person is less likely to follow a required diet or medication plan. Treating depression with psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of these treatments can improve a patient's well-being and ability to manage diabetes.

Causes underlying the association between depression and diabetes are unclear. Depression may develop because of stress but also may result from the metabolic effects of diabetes on the brain. Studies suggest that people with diabetes who have a history of depression are more likely to develop diabetic complications than those without depression. People who suffer from both diabetes and depression tend to have higher health care costs in primary care.3

Despite the enormous advances in brain research in the past 20 years, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated. People with diabetes, their families and friends, and even their physicians may not distinguish the symptoms of depression. However, skilled health professionals will recognize these symptoms and inquire about their duration and severity, diagnose the disorder, and suggest appropriate treatment.

Depression is a serious medical condition that affects thoughts, feelings, and the ability to function in everyday life. Depression can occur at any age. NIMH-sponsored studies estimate that 6 percent of 9- to 17-year-olds in the U.S. and almost 10 percent of American adults, or about 19 million people age 18 and older, experience some form of depression every year.4,5 Although available therapies alleviate symptoms in over 80 percent of those treated, less than half of people with depression get the help they need.5,6

Depression results from abnormal functioning of the brain. The causes of depression are currently a matter of intense research. An interaction between genetic predisposition and life history appear to determine a person's level of risk. Episodes of depression may then be triggered by stress, difficult life events, side effects of medications, or other environmental factors. Whatever its origins, depression can limit the energy needed to keep focused on treatment for other disorders, such as diabetes.

http://https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/index.html?s_cid=DDT-OY3-General-AW-Search-Eat_A-v1_ManageDiabetes is a disorder that impairs the way the body uses digested food for growth and energy. Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose, a form of sugar that provides the main source of fuel for the body. After digestion, glucose passes into the bloodstream. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps glucose get into cells and converts glucose to energy. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, and the body loses its main source of fuel.

In type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. This form of diabetes usually strikes children and young adults, who require daily or more frequent insulin injections or using an insulin pump for the rest of their lives. Insulin treatment, however, is not a cure, nor can it reliably prevent the long-term complications of the disease. Although scientists do not know what causes the immune system to attack the cells, they believe that both genetic factors and environmental factors are involved.

Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of diagnosed diabetes in the United States, occurs equally in males and females, and is more common in Caucasians. Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, constant hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and extreme fatigue. If not treated with insulin, a person can lapse into a life-threatening coma.

Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for about 90 percent of diabetes cases in the United States, is most common in adults over age 40. Affecting about 6 percent of the U.S. population, this form of diabetes is strongly linked with obesity (more than 80 percent of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight), inactivity, and a family history of diabetes. It is more common in African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and Asian and Pacific Islander Americans. With the aging of Americans and the alarming increase in obesity in all ages and ethnic groups, the incidence of type 2 diabetes has also been rising nationwide.

Type 2 diabetes is often part of a metabolic syndrome that includes obesity, high blood pressure, and high levels of blood lipids. People with type 2 diabetes first develop insulin resistance, a disorder in which muscle, fat, and liver cells do not use insulin properly. At first, the pancreas produces more insulin, but gradually its capacity to secrete insulin falters, and the timing of insulin secretion becomes abnormal. After diabetes develops, insulin production continues to decline.

Symptoms include fatigue, nausea, frequent urination or infections, unusual thirst, weight loss, blurred vision, and slow healing of wounds or sores. Some people have no symptoms at all. Researchers estimate that about one-third of people with type 2 diabetes don't know they have it.

Many people with type 2 diabetes can control their blood glucose by following a careful diet and exercise program, losing excess weight, and taking oral medication. However, the longer a person has type 2 diabetes, the more likely he or she will need insulin injections, either alone or together with oral medications.

Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy. Like type 2 diabetes, it occurs more often in African Americans, American Indians, Hispanic Americans, and people with a family history of diabetes. Though it usually disappears after delivery, the mother is at increased risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life.

While there are many different treatments for depression, they must be carefully chosen by a trained professional based on the circumstances of the person and family. Prescription antidepressant medications are generally well-tolerated and safe for people with diabetes. Specific types of psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, also can relieve depression. However, recovery from depression takes time. Antidepressant medications can take several weeks to work and may need to be combined with ongoing psychotherapy. Not everyone responds to treatment in the same way. Prescriptions and dosing may need to be adjusted.

In people who have diabetes and depression, scientists report that psychotherapy and antidepressant medications have positive effects on both mood and glycemic control.2 Additional trials will help us better understand the links between depression and diabetes and the behavioral and physiologic mechanisms by which improvement in depression fosters better adherence to diabetes treatment and healthier lives.

Treatment for depression in the context of diabetes should be managed by a mental health professional—for example, a psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker—who is in close communication with the physician providing the diabetes care. This is especially important when antidepressant medication is needed or prescribed, so that potentially harmful drug interactions can be avoided. In some cases, a mental health professional that specializes in treating individuals with depression and co-occurring physical illnesses such as diabetes may be available. People with diabetes who develop depression, as well as people in treatment for depression who subsequently develop diabetes, should make sure to tell any physician they visit about the full range of medications they are taking.

Use of herbal supplements of any kind should be discussed with a physician before they are tried. Recently, scientists have discovered that St. John's wort , an herbal remedy sold over-the-counter and promoted as a treatment for mild depression, can have harmful interactions with some other medications.

Remember, depression is a treatable disorder of the brain. Depression can be treated in addition to whatever other illnesses a person might have, including diabetes. If you think you may be depressed or know someone who is, don't lose hope. Seek help for depression.  Reprinted from NIMH. NIMH is not affiliated with IGBATTMHO in any way.

CHAPTER 3

Mental Health Care for African Americans

Conclusions

African Americans have made great strides in education, income, and other indicators of social well-being. Their improvement in social standing is marked, attesting to the resilience and adaptive traditions of African American communities in the face of slavery, racism, and discrimination. Contributions have come from diverse African American communities, including immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Nevertheless, significant problems remain:

1.  African Americans living in the community appear to have overall rates of distress symptoms and mental illness similar to those of whites, although some exceptions may exist. One major epidemiological study found that the rates of disorder for whites and blacks were similar after controlling for differences in income, education, and marital status. A later, population-based study found similar rates before accounting for such socioeconomic variables. Furthermore, the distribution of disorders may be different between groups, with African Americans having higher rates of some disorders and lower rates of others.

2.  The mental health of African Americans cannot be evaluated without considering the many African Americans found in high-need populations whose members have high levels of mental illness and are significantly in need of treatment. Proportionally, 3.5 times as many African Americans as white Americans are homeless. None of them are included in community surveys. Other inaccessible populations also compound the problem of making accurate measurements and providing effective services.

The mental health problems of persons in high-need populations are especially likely to occur jointly with substance abuse problems, as well as with HIV infection or AIDS (Lewin & Altman, 2000). Detection, treatment, and rehabilitation become particularly challenging in the presence of multiple and significant impediments to well-being.

3.   African Americans who are distressed or have a mental illness may present their symptoms according to certain idioms of distress. African American symptom presentation can differ from what most clinicians are trained to expect and may lead to diagnostic and treatment planning problems. The impact of culture on idioms of distress deserves more attention from researchers.

4.    African Americans may be more likely than white Americans to use alternative therapies, although differences have not yet been firmly established. When complementary therapies are used, their use may not be communicated to clinicians. A lack of provider knowledge of their use may interfere with delivery of appropriate treatment.

5.   Disparities in access to mental health services are partly attributable to financial barriers. Many of the working poor, among whom African Americans are overrepresented, do not qualify for public coverage and work in jobs that do not provide private coverage. Better access to private insurance is an important step, but is not in itself sufficient. African American reliance on public financing suggests that provisions of the Medicaid program are also important. Publicly financed safety net providers are a critical resource in the provision of care to African American communities.

6.    Disparities in access also come about for reasons other than financial ones. Few mental health specialists are available for those African Americans who prefer an African American provider. Furthermore, African Americans are overrepresented in areas where few providers choose to practice. They may not trust or feel welcomed by the providers who are available. Feelings of mistrust and stigma or perceptions of racism or discrimination may keep them away.

7.    African Americans with mental health needs are unlikely to receive treatment—even less likely than the undertreated mainstream population. If treated, they are likely to have sought help from primary care providers. African Americans frequently lack a usual source of health care as a focal point for treatment. African Americans receiving specialty care tend to leave treatment prematurely. Mental health care occurs relatively frequently in emergency rooms and psychiatric hospitals. These settings and patterns of treatment undermine delivery of high-quality mental health care.

8.    African Americans are more likely to be incorrectly diagnosed than white Americans. They are more likely to be diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia and less likely to be diagnosed as suffering from an affective disorder. The pattern is longstanding but cannot yet be fully explained.

9.    Whether African Americans and whites benefit from mental health treatment in equal measure is still under investigation. The limited information available suggests African Americans respond favorably for the most part, but few clinical trials have evaluated the response of African Americans to evidence-based treatments. Little research has examined the impact on African Americans of care delivered under usual conditions of community practice. More remains to be learned about when and how treatment must be modified to take into account African American needs and preferences.

Adaptive traditions have sustained African Americans through long periods of hardship imposed by the larger society. Their resilience is an important resource from which much can be learned. African American communities must be engaged, their traditions supported and built upon, and their trust gained in attempts to reduce mental illness and increase mental health. Mutual benefit will accrue to African Americans and to the society at large from a concerted effort to address the mental health needs of African Americans.   FYI: Please read entire report at http://www.mentalhealth.org/cre/toc.asp

Additional Resources