Disparities exist in mental health care experts say; what’s being done to bridge the health divide?

Updated: Mar. 29, 2021 at 8:20 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - COVID-19 highlighted disparities in medical care for some segments of the population and mental health professionals say those disparities include mental health care.

Dr. Arwen Podesta is a board-certified psychiatrist practicing in New Orleans.

She said COVID-19 has affected many people.

“The anxiety and depressive disorders have quadrupled since a year before COVID. If you’re suffering from anxiety or depression know that you’re not alone,” said Podesta.

Dr. Maurya Glaude is a mental health professional who is a professor at Tulane University’s School of Social Work.

“In mental health, we’ve seen an influx, our requests have quadrupled. In fact, in licensed professionals like LCSWs, as well as other related [fields], mental health providers are seeing these increases in requests for services,” said Glaude.

And disparities or significant differences continue to exist related to mental health care said Podesta and Glaude.

“Oh, I’ve seen it since I started working in this field in this state, absolutely,” said Podesta.

Glaude says locale and race are factors.

“Factors like access, additionally factors like quality as well as outcomes to services are different for different communities. It’s going to be different from rural,” said Glaude. “And then definitely communities of color, non-dominant groups are significantly impacted by access, quality, outcomes to services that contribute to what we see as a disparity in the overall rate of disease prevalence, morbidity as well as rates of death.”

But stigma also causes some people to shun available mental health services.

“People maybe have some stigma against seeking help in different cultures and certain ethnicities, certain socioeconomic, certain people of certain socioeconomic backgrounds have some stigma about seeking mental health and it’s definitely a disenfranchised group,” Podesta stated.

“We definitely still deal with stigma,” said Glaude.

From her vantage point, Dr. Glaude says she is seeing more African Americans become open to mental health care services.

“In other communities of color such as Asian, such as Latinx we are still seeing that our other communities of color are not requesting assistance possibly because it’s not a culturally relevant model of care that they’re used to, they may usually go to a spiritual adviser, they may go to the family,” she said.

Podesta says women seem to seek mental health care ahead of men.

“I think men, middle-aged older men have a very hard time thinking that they would even benefit from treatment and so I think that’s a disparaged population,” she said.

Podesta was asked how the state might tackle the problem of stigma.

“It’s very common and if we can make it feel more common or universalize it, I think we can decrease the stigma. I also know that there is public health advocacy at the state and city levels,” she said.

Not addressing mental health issues can lead to serious consequences.

“When we refuse to seek help that results in a continuum of generations experiencing unresolved trauma, of having generations of people where there’s anxiety and you look across generations and there might be substance use as a result of unresolved grief, trauma, anxiety, untreated depression and so those are some of the consequences,” said Glaude.

And some people with mental health problems have ended up in the criminal justice system.

“You can get thrust into the criminal justice issues, you know, anxiety can be crippling, depression can be crippling,” said Podesta.

“Yes, the criminal justice system is one outcome that could happen if their unresolved mental health needs as well as us not changing the systemic barriers that keep people from being able to thrive,” Glaude stated.

But resources for health care services are not without limits.

“Resources are strained and I know in my field, psychiatry and also addiction medicine we’ve always had too few providers and now we have fewer compared to the need that’s out there,” said Podesta.

“Federally-funded programs actually help support education towards us having more providers that are culturally and linguistically appropriate in their care but we’re just not seeing that we’re able to meet the needs and the numbers. We actually are having to start waiting lists,” said Glaude.

Podesta said some things that have come about because of the COVID-19 health crisis are helping the situation.

“With the pandemic and Telehealth available and also some of the new money coming down from both the last administration and this administration we actually are developing more services and more availability,” said Podesta. “It is sometimes hard to get into but all of the federally-qualified health centers have access to some sort of mental health referrals or treatment themselves and the human service districts do have access to even groups and online therapy.

The American Psychological Association wrote that, “Mental and behavioral health is a critical and frequently unaddressed matter in racial and ethnic minority communities.”

Podesta said there are national crisis hotlines that people can also avail themselves of if they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

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