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Language Should Never Be a Barrier to Mental Healthcare

The older man sits down with the younger man with his arm around him, showing comfort and support.

The need for accessible mental healthcare is becoming increasingly pressing for marginalized groups. Studies project  that by 2044, at least 50% of the U.S. population will be represented by people of color.

As the population gets more diverse, the need for mental health programs that are easily accessible to everyone grows more important. Therefore, language access can be a critical paving stone toward mental health equity for everyone, especially among limited-English proficient (LEP) individuals. Below is a look at the existing mental health disparities that exist for diverse populations and how language access is a major barrier. 


Mental Health Disparities Among Diverse Populations 

Individuals that belong to underrepresented groups are far less likely to get the mental healthcare they need. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, while 48% of White Americans received care from a mental health provider, only 31% of Black Americans and Hispanic Americans and 22% of Asian Americans received care. 

Even though these underrepresented groups are less likely to receive care, research suggests that they don't need mental health care any less. Around 2.7 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have a need for mental health services. Only one out of three African Americans who need care for their mental health receive it, but they are likely to have the same mental illness rates as White Americans. Many refugees that seek asylum in the U.S. have high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression as well. 


Typical Barriers to Health Equity Among Underrepresented Groups 

A number of barriers contribute to mental health disparities for marginalized communities. Some of the most common barriers to care for these groups include: 

  • Provider discrimination 
  • Economic factors like the costs of care or difficulty missing work 
  • Lack of behavioral health insurance coverage 
  • The stigma associated with seeking mental health care 
  • Mistrust of healthcare providers and the healthcare system 
  • Lack of awareness of mental and behavioral health 
  • Lack of language access services by a provider

The barriers that create a stumbling block for underrepresented groups seeking care are made up of both structural and cultural factors. For example, a general stigma regarding seeking help can be culturally based, whereas structural barriers are more reliant on care providers. For example, a lack of cultural competency in a healthcare setting or non-efficient multilingual language access could be deemed structural issues. 


The Importance of Language Access in Behavioral Health for Marginalized Communities 

Even though multiple factors create mental health disparities among marginalized groups, lacking language access can be a major structural barrier to mental health equity. Several studies point to just how important adequate communication can be for LEP individuals who need mental healthcare and why the need for language access is so profound. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, Hispanic individuals are more likely to experience poor communication with their healthcare providers. These bilingual patients are also less likely to receive the same levels of evaluation in their native language as they would in English, which means Hispanic patients may be under-treated. 

Hispanic individuals are not the only group affected by ineffective language services in mental healthcare. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other underrepresented groups are also affected. Research indicates that 30% of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders — one of the fastest-growing communities in the U.S. — are not fluent English speakers. In fact, as many as 44.8% of Chinese, 20.9% of Filipinos, and 18.7% of Asian Indian individuals have limited-English proficiency

By offering adequate levels of language access, providers adopt more culturally competent operations that ensure care is available for all groups. These objectives don't just enhance patient satisfaction; they also protect groups of people who already face disparities in other areas of care. 


Build a Language Access Plan to Support Healthy Equity on Every Level 

Language should never be a barrier to mental healthcare, even though these barriers are obvious in many underrepresented populations. Oddly enough, this particular barrier is one that is the most straightforward to address. Implementing a well-designed language access plan can be primarily reliant on working with the right language services provider to cater to all patients equally.


Need help designing your language access plan as a behavioral health provider? Download GLOBO's Guide: Designing Your Ideal Language Access Plan.


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