Minorities face greater challenges obtaining quality mental health care, a recent report conducted by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher said.
In the study, Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity, Satcher cited that discrimination, poverty and lack of insurance were the greatest factors that contributed to the disparity.
Lonnie Johnson, a member of the executive committee of the African American Health Institute in Lansing said he wasnt surprised by the reports findings.
During a community discussion about health concerns last year, participants listed mental health at the top of their worries.
I think its a nationwide problem, and East Lansing and Lansing, are no exception, he said. Its one of the reasons we want to focus on mental health at the institute.
And George Rowan, a professor of resource development at MSU, said he agrees there are factors which limit access for minorities.
I think Dr. Satcher is right on the money with that, said Rowan, who is also vice chairman of the Ingham County Board of Health. Not only one ethnic group, but all face the same situation.
But there are differences in the way minority groups perceive mental health care, Rowan said.
If you look at the four major ethnic groups, Asians tend not to avail themselves of the mental health system for treatment, he said. Its within the culture to handle things, but African Americans have a distrust.
Hispanics tend to use their own remedies to address these issues instead of seeking professional treatment, and American Indians have the highest suicide rate of the four groups.
He said minorities tend to put other things above health issues, which can create problems.
Generally, if it doesnt visibly hurt or show, they dont take advantage of the system, he said. We see people come in when its really too late. What we must do is get the word out there from people who live within the community.
Rowan suggested churches, community centers and health institutes as ways to create access for minorities to receive adequate access to health care.
Dr. Christopher Colenda, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry, said money is another issue that contributes to the problem.
There is tremendous disparity with the financial resources to help purchase mental health services, he said. There are financial barriers that underrepresented minorities face. Also, mental health services in some insurance plans are capped.
Dr. Margaret Holmes-Rovner, a professor in the Department of Medicine, said mental health providers need to be both culturally and financially sensitive to be successful with minorities.
Building trust is absolutely critical, she said. I also think its a funding issue. We need to really make sure that we let the people who fund the programs know that mental health services need to be covered and available.
Rowan said the bottom line is a difference in access to the facilities, not a difference in the severity of minorities mental health issues.
It has primarily become an access issue, he said. You need people of color to reach out and you need facilities so they will take advantage of them.
Rowan also said these facilities must be community-based.
They must be staffed with people within the community, he said. They must have people serving on the local health boards to give direction on how to access people of color.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.