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Mental Health Awareness Month: Improving Access to Quality, Tailored Mental Health Care

May 20, 2023

Did you know that about 2 in 10 adults (17%) in the Greater Cincinnati region reported frequent mental distress? Since May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, there’s no better time to discuss the issues that affect the mental well-being of our family, friends, community and selves. As we work to build thriving communities that are physically and mentally healthy, we start by understanding what support is needed for those experiencing the most mental distress.

In 2022, Interact for Health conducted a Community Health Status Survey and a series of focus groups to identify ways we can help address and support the mental health of underserved communities. This is the second post in a three-part series that discusses the mental health challenges facing our most affected neighbors. In the first installment of the series, we explored the importance of building supportive communities that destigmatize mental health.

Another major takeaway identified in the focus groups dealt with the lack of healthcare providers that look like and understand the experiences of traditionally marginalized communities. Many of the participants cited the lack of diverse representation as a major barrier to receiving care, stating that they felt most comfortable receiving care from providers that understood their culture and life experiences. As one survey respondent put it:

“. . . I remember not wanting to sit in front of a provider who did not look like me because . . . I don’t want to explain what it’s like to be Black. I don’t want to go through that form of trauma and then explain the current trauma.”
– Black community focus group member

The community members who participated in the focus groups agreed that having more diverse mental health service providers would improve the experience of patients. They also said that more representation might even lead to more people seeking help in the first place. All these responses helped identify the key takeaway that we need to: Improve access to quality, tailored mental health care from providers who share backgrounds and experiences with their patients.

There is a shortage of mental health care providers in our region, especially providers of color and in rural areas. In addition to the general need for diverse representation, finding providers who supply specialized care is difficult. This includes care for people experiencing homelessness or addiction, older community members, survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, and people navigating gender transition.

Creating access to diverse therapy and other behavioral support programs helps build healthy minds, and having that care provided by someone who looks and speaks like the patient makes it even more successful. But how can we work to usher in more diverse representation? This statement from another survey respondent offers up one way that we can move the needle in the right direction:

“. . .(providing) full scholarships for Black and Brown students to complete the degrees in mental health (care) so we can get more representation in the field and provide grants to Black and Brown therapists and groups for diverse community initiatives.”
– LGBTQ+ community focus group member

The focus group discussions also yielded other helpful suggestions including:

  • Providing access to free or low-cost therapy in multiple languages that does not require insurance
  • Improving the quality of school counseling by advancing cultural competency among providers and soliciting feedback from students
  • Strengthening programs for the prevention and treatment of substance use among children and teens
  • Creating easily accessible funding opportunities for small and diverse mental health service organizations

As we continue to acknowledge May as Mental Health Awareness Month, we recognize that our work - and the work of those living in affected communities - goes on. We seek to change the culture and conversations surrounding mental health where we live, work and play. We aim to accomplish this through our work with community partners to strengthen support for youth mental health and remove barriers to equitable mental healthcare through policy advocacy. You can learn more about that work here.

For more information about our survey’s findings and recommendations, click on the Cohear report here.

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