Making a difference: Addressing mental health challenges in Black communities
Regence is taking steps to increase access to culturally responsive mental health support
Black History Month is a time to reflect on the achievements, contributions and sacrifices of Black Americans throughout history. However, within the Black community, there are poorer health outcomes due to racial inequities. Every month of the year, we are committed to reducing health and health care disparities, including mental health, that prevent Black Americans from achieving their full health potential.
Mental health is a complex issue that affects people of all races and ethnicities, but Black communities are disproportionately affected by mental health conditions, with higher rates of anxiety and depression. According to Blue Cross Blue Shield Association’s (BCBSA) 2022 Health of America report, major depression goes undiagnosed and untreated at excessively greater rates in majority Black and Hispanic communities.
Acknowledging common barriers to care
Why is this happening? There are many factors that contribute to higher rates of undiagnosed and untreated conditions. First, access to mental health services is limited in many predominately Black communities. The American Psychiatric Association reports approximately 11% of African Americans aren’t covered by health insurance, compared to about 7% for non-Hispanic whites. And not all medical coverage includes behavioral health services. Without insurance coverage or in some cases, transportation to reach providers, the first step in getting help is often out of reach.
Stigma is another barrier. Despite a lot of progress made to decrease stigma over the course of the pandemic, mental health is still seen as a taboo topic in many Black communities, leading to a lack of open communication and support.
“When members of any community are reluctant to discuss mental health issues and seek treatment because of perceived shame or ongoing stigma, it can increase those already prevalent feelings of anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Mike Franz, senior medical director of behavioral health at Regence.
Another critical obstacle is the national shortage of mental health professionals, particularly clinicians who identify as people of color. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), only 3.7% of members in the American Psychiatric Association and 1.5% of members in the American Psychological Association are Black. For patients of color, it can be difficult to share race-related trauma with clinicians who don’t have that shared experience and context. Provider bias, both conscious and unconscious, and a lack of cultural competency can cause misdiagnosis and inadequate treatment. Increasing diversity within the health care provider workforce is critical to ensure patients can access culturally responsive care.
Finding quality treatment
“We understand the importance of including providers in our network who represent our diverse member community,” said Dr. Franz. “We really want to make it easy for members to find a provider who fits their specific needs.”
In addition to signing on more than 1,500 new behavioral health providers in 2022, Regence has enhanced its provider search tool to include more demographic data. When searching for a provider or specialist on regence.com, Dr. Franz says providers can identify their ethnicity, language and gender identity to help members who are looking for information that helps them make choices about their care.
To address some of the disparities in care access, Regence has increased the number of virtual care options available to members. “Virtual care provides greater access to behavioral health services, regardless of transportation or location, and allows members to connect with a provider from the comfort and convenience of their own homes,” said Dr. Franz. “Mental health is an important issue for everyone. With the right resources and culturally competent care, we can help make a difference in the lives of those who need it.”
We’re here to help
Whether you need occasional emotional support or ongoing mental health care, Regence has a variety of programs to prevent, identify and treat mental health and substance use disorders. Regence members who want to know what is available under their health plan can sign in to their account on regence.com, or call us for help finding the right behavioral health resources.