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Mental Health Disparities Among Those at Risk


Mental health issues have impacted minorities and at-risk groups the highest. But a new analysis has found that disparities exist within at-risk populations.

American Indian/Alaska Native youth and adults face higher disparities in mental and behavioral health than other racial and ethnic minorities, according to a new report from United Health Foundation. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group as not-for-profit foundation to improve health and healthcare.

In fact, American Indian/Alaska Native children through the age of 17 had a 14.2 times higher likelihood than Asian children of being exposed to divorce; death or imprisonment of a parent; living with anyone who was mentally ill or suicidal; living with anyone who had a problem with alcohol or drugs; or witnessing physical violence in the home. Events like these can impact a child’s development and can have an impact into adulthood.

Additionally, American Indian/Alaska Native adults experienced a 3.4 times higher rate (28.3%) of substance use disorder than Asian adults (8.4%).

“These new data provide critical direction for closing longstanding gaps and building a stronger, more equitable America where all individuals have the opportunity to thrive,” wrote the authors of America’s Health Rankings Health Equity in Focus: 2023 Mental and Behavioral Health Data Brief.

The brief analyzed 15 mental and behavioral health measures using data pulled from four national public health surveys over a 10-year period (2011-2021). This new analysis builds on previous reports by highlighting mental and behavioral health disparities by race/ethnicity, age, gender, disability status and sexual orientation.

Those most at risk are experiencing mental and behavioral health challenges at greater rates than other groups, but the report finds that disparities differ by race and ethnicity. For example, Black adults had a 2.2 times higher rate of substance abuse disorder and a 1.9 times higher rate of co-occurring mental illness compared with Asian adults in 2021.

The report also found that Hispanic adults had a 1.7 times higher rate of having had a major depressive episode in the last year compared with Asian adults (7.8% vs. 4.7%) and Hispanic youth had a 1.5 times higher rate compared with Black youth in 2021.

A report last year from United Health Foundation, COVID-era Disparities Survey featured in the 2022 Annual Report, found that Hispanic adults reported pandemic-related occupational stress and financial issues, as well as loss of friends or family from COVID-19.

Additionally, adults who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) faced disparities in mental and behavioral health. In 2021, suicidal thoughts were 4.9 times higher among lesbian, gay or bisexual adults (18.1%) than heterosexual adults (3.7%). The rate of substance use disorder was 2.0 times higher for lesbian, gay or bisexual adults compared with their heterosexual peers (32.4% vs. 16.0%).

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