Prioritizing Minority Mental Health

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each July to bring awareness to the challenges that some racial and ethnic minority groups face regarding mental health. Learn more about mental health and find ways to support mental health equity.

Mature woman contemplating at home

Mental health matters! Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, act, handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is just as important as physical health at all stages of life. Mental health issues are common – about 1 in 5 American adults experiences a mental illness each year.1 Mental health issues are treatable and often preventable. However, people in some racial and ethnic minority groups face obstacles to maintaining positive mental health.

Obstacles to Mental Health for Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups

The mental health of some racial and ethnic minority groups has worsened since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic relative to that of non-Hispanic white people.2,3

Psychological counselling. Black male patient with depression

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, and racial and ethnic minority groups have been placed at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, COVID-19 severe illness or death, and pandemic-related stressors.2 These stressors, such as unemployment, loss of a loved one, and COVID-19 stigma, can cause emotional distress and may lead to new or worsening mental health issues. Mental health issues may increase when people face additional stressors, on top of those related to COVID-19, and lack access to the resources and support needed to navigate these challenges.

Mental health care is important for mental wellbeing, yet many people from racial and ethnic minority groups face obstacles in accessing needed care.3 These obstacles may include lack of or insufficient health insurance, lack of racial and ethnic diversity among mental healthcare providers, lack of culturally competent providers, financial strain, and stigma.3,4

Racism negatively impacts mental health.2,5,6 Racism contributes to unequal access to resources and services, including mental health care. First-hand experiences of racial discrimination, as well as witnessing or hearing about discrimination from others or in the media, can cause or intensify stress and racial trauma.

Working Together for Mental Health Equity

All of society benefits when people from racial and ethnic minority groups have access to mental health care, supportive social conditions, freedom from stressors that can compromise mental health, and access to other resources needed for health. We all have a role to play in promoting health equity.

Individuals can

Mental health equity is the state in which everyone has a fair and just opportunity to reach their highest level of mental health and emotional well-being.

Public health organizations can

  • Ensure mental health programming incorporates perspectives, ideas, and decision-making from appropriately representative people of racial and ethnic minority groups at all stages of programming – from planning to implementation to evaluation.
  • Consider the data on mental health when developing organizational priorities and programs.
  • Prioritize action on and/or meaningfully account for the potential influence of social determinants of health when designing mental health programs.
  • Measure the impact of racism on mental health and develop best practices for reducing racism and its consequences.
  • Ensure mental health educational materials are culturally and linguistically appropriate and follow health equity principles for communication such as using plain language.
  • Take intentional steps to increase the reach of mental health information to racial and ethnic minority groups through culturally responsive communication outlets.
  • Establish and foster partnerships with other organizations to fill gaps in reach and/or expertise.
  • Verify and promote available free and low-cost mental health resources.
  • Explore referrals to mental health services to ensure those served can be efficiently connected with needed resources.
Mental healthcare provider listens thoughtfully to patient.

Healthcare systems can

  • Screen patients for depression and other mental health conditions and refer patients to accessible mental health care services.
  • Make mental health educational materials available to all patients during their appointments, via patient portals, and in waiting rooms.
  • Make efforts to recruit mental healthcare providers that reflect the race and ethnicity of the populations they serve.
  • Provide cultural humility training to mental healthcare providers.
  • Ensure mental healthcare services are culturally and linguistically appropriate.

States and communities can

  • Expand community-based mental health care that provides culturally responsive mental health services at low or no cost for youth and adults.
  • Evaluate policies for their differential impact on social determinants of health, and, when needed, modify these policies or create new policies that ensure equitable access to resources for people from all race and ethnicity groups.
  • Evaluate policies for their potential to reinforce mental health stigma and revise or remove stigmatizing policies.
  • Encourage community and faith-based leaders to have positive dialogues and discussions around mental health issues to help reduce stigma.
  • Make efforts to ensure decision-makers reflect the races and ethnicities of the populations they serve.

CDC is collaborating with partners to improve mental health among racial and ethnic minority groups by

  • Developing and sharing culturally responsive resources to promote and strengthen the emotional well-being of populations through How Right Now | Finding What Helps, also available in Spanish
  • Gathering data on mental health, access to care, demographics, and more through the Household Pulse Survey, in collaboration with the US Census Bureau
  • Analyzing data to better understand mental health disparities during COVID-19
  • Recognizing the harm racism has on mental health and overall health, declaring racism a serious threat to the public’s health, and taking actions to address racism
  • Implementing the CORE strategy, an agency-wide strategy that aims to integrate health equity into all work at CDC
  • Ensuring equity principles guide planning around mental health programming
  • Raising awareness of health workers’ mental health issues through the Health Worker Mental Health Initiative
  • Identifying policies and practices that connect more children and families to mental health care and seeking to understand the impact of social determinants of health on mental health care – Improving Access to Children’s Mental Health Care
  • Developing data systems and tools that appropriately identify, respond to, culturally tailor, and reach historically marginalized and/or racialized populations during crises through Project REFOCUS, in partnership with Howard University, Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies UCLA Center for the Study of Racism Social Justice and Health Funding, and CDC Foundation
A collaboration by CDC’s Office of Health Equity and CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Division of Population Health.