Health Disparities and Cultural Competence in Integrated Care

April is National Minority Health Month and a reminder that many ethnic minorities still experience significant barriers to accessing mental health services. In the United States, “African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and Native Americans receive lower quality mental health care in general than whites” and “face unique challenges pertaining to mental health care.” Ethnic minorities are thus vulnerable to mental health disparities and the “great physical, emotional, functional, and societal burden” associated with psychiatric illness 1.

Mental health disparities occur not only for ethnic minorities but also for minorities across other aspects of culture and social identity. In our New & Notable stories, read about inequalities in mental health care and outcomes experienced by rural populations and transgender youth.

Cultural competence in health care enables providers to deliver services “that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients”2.

According to psychologists, physicians, and other health care experts, primary care that takes into account a patient’s language and cultural background and also integrates mental health screenings and treatments can help address mental health care disparities. With integrated primary care and a care team that “considers culture, shows respect and assesses and affirms patient differences”, patients can feel more comfortable with discussing their mental health concerns1.

Read our stories about two studies featured by the American Psychological Association that demonstrate models of culturally competent integrated care:

This month, we also observe Alcohol Awareness Month and National Alcohol Screening Day (4/9). In primary care, the treatment of alcohol use disorders (AUDs) is “both possible and practical.”