The month of July is associated with hot summer weather, fireworks on the Fourth, and the emergence of flying critters of all kinds of varieties that you may want to avoid. A lesser known association with July is that in 2008, in the United States, July was officially recognized as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to shine light on marginalized communities – originally recognized as ethnic and cultural minorities, but over time became more inclusive to recognize immigrant groups, religious minorities and those that are on the LGBTQ+ spectrum.

It can be easy to dismiss the need for mental health awareness specialized to different groups, but in our contemporary westernized, heteronormative world, the need to recognize those with different life experiences has always been present. Those with a minority identity of any kind may have different triggers than those of the majority, whether it be lack of representation, issues within respective communities, conflict of identity, or a looming feeling of “otherness.”

What does this mean in the context of substance abuse? Those belonging to ethnic and cultural minority groups are the least likely to actively seek out treatment.

In a national survey from 2014 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), African Americans reported receiving mental health treatment at half the rate of their White counterparts. This is an interesting statistic, as a separate national study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in 2014 reported rates of negative feelings (hopelessness, sadness, worthlessness, or that everything is an effort all of the time) in African Americans at double or more than double the rates of the White population. Hispanic individuals were at even higher risk than the African American participants. These feelings are often correlated to substance abuse.

Asian Americans seek mental health care three times less frequently than their White counterparts. However, according to the American Psychological Association, Asian American college students have a higher rate of suicidal thoughts and attempts than the White population. There are various minority groups that have drinking cultures stronger than the rest of the United States, and as a result higher fatality rates. For example, according to a federal report from 2008, 11.7% of deaths in the Native American population are alcohol related – compared to the national average, 3.3%, Native Americans are dying three times more often of alcohol related causes.

In many immigrant communities, for example the South Asian American community, mental illness is stigmatized more extremely than in the general American population. This stigma derives from various traditionalists ideologies, whether they be religious or otherwise. Worst of all, it reduces the likelihood that someone in need of support would reach out and actively seek it. What does this mean? Those struggling may not feel like they can reach out due to cultural barriers. They may try to downplay their symptoms and not recognize it as a true problem in fear of not having social support. When there’s such a disparity present, the statistics given potentially correlate to higher rates of substance use.

In the LGBTQ+ community, there is not much long-term data on substance abuse trends like that of non-LGBTQ+ populations

However, numerous studies were conducted in the last 10 years that help to shed light on particular substance abuse disparities. Collected from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2015, those identifying as “sexual minorities” (identifying as gay, lesbian, or bisexual) have reported using illicit drugs in the past year at a rate of 39.1%! That is more than twice the rate of heterosexual participants in the study. In these populations, the risk for pain reliever misuse and marijuana use was double that of the heterosexual population. There is an overall higher likelihood of LGBTQ+ individuals to experience substance use disorders within their lifetimes. There is also a higher likelihood of co-occurring psychiatric disorders, such as depression or anxiety, than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.

What makes navigating minority mental health even trickier is the intersectionality of it all.

Some individuals may have more than one minority identity. Some may still be coming to terms with their identity. When most research is done from a traditional western hetero-normative point of view, there are many questions that may be left to asked, or factors that were not considered before. It is important to recognize the intersectionality of individuals, and not to place people into the box they were assigned. National averages help give context to a greater picture, but each individual paints their own details to fill in the narrative of their life circumstance. Minority Mental Health Awareness Month may be to raise awareness for mental health in various populations, but this is an issue that concerns us all. If you or someone you know is struggling, we at Williamsville Wellness are here to help. Call today 804-559-9959.

Further Reading:

(source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK83240/ )

(source: https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=24)

(source: https://www.minorityhealth.hhs.gov/omh/browse.aspx?lvl=4&lvlid=69 )

(source: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/July-2019/Balancing-Expectations-with-Mental-Health)

(source: https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/substance-use-suds-in-lgbt-populations)

(source: https://samhin.org/south-asian-culture-and-mental-health/)

(source: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/26439767/ns/health-addictions/t/native-american-deaths-alcohol-related/#.XSdz3ehKjIU)