Issues Facing Young People in the Immigrant Community in Accessing Mental Health Services
As you may know, July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month—a month-long campaign aimed at improving access to mental healthcare for multicultural communities.
Accordingly, Hear Me Out is turning its focus to key issues involving minority communities and mental health—starting with today’s post that provides some background and context for our upcoming blogs.
As we have often reported, research shows that appropriate mental health services and supports can significantly improve the lives of young people living with mental illness. Yet only 20% of the millions of young people living with mental illness receive any services. What happens to the youth who have no access to care? They often fail in school, are removed from their families and homes, are confined in juvenile halls, and can feel so hopeless that they take their own lives.
Low-income and minority youth are especially at-risk for adverse outcomes, and many of our nation’s most vulnerable children live in immigrant communities.
Compounded Adversity Leads to Increased Need for Millions of Children
Immigrant youth make up one-fourth of the nation’s 75 million children. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to more than 100 million, or about one-third of U.S. children.
More Need, but Less Access to Services
Unfortunately, immigrant youths’ increased mental health needs do not translate into increased access to appropriate services and supports. In 1996, increasingly stringent federal welfare and immigration laws barred many immigrants from receiving most public benefits. Lawfully residing immigrants who had once qualified for public assistance programs were no longer eligible for the same aid that is available for other low-income US citizens — including access to quality health care. One result is that low-income immigrant families frequently lack health insurance. What is more, controversy over immigration laws and policies may cause families and youth to avoid inquiring about, or applying for, services for which they are eligible.
Even with insurance, immigrant youth and their families face major barriers to mental health services and supports. For example, services are rarely available from providers who speak languages other than English. In fact, a recent survey by the Board of Behavioral Sciences of California found that just 12% of mental health licensed professionals are fluent in Spanish, and only about 1% speak Chinese. Fewer than 1% speak other languages that were surveyed, including Korean, Tagalog, or Vietnamese.
Stigma is also a serious barrier for immigrant youth in seeking mental healthcare. In some immigrant cultures such as Hispanic or Asian, mental illness may be perceived as shameful, not just for the individual, but for his or her family as well. The added burden of family disapproval may be an insurmountable barrier to accessing mental health treatment.
Key Issues Affect Many Multicultural Communities
Barriers to appropriate mental health treatment such as these are not only issues for young people in immigrant communities. The substantial impacts of poverty, stigma towards mental illness, and other cultural barriers to appropriate treatment affect multicultural communities too. The result is a growing population of multicultural young people with unmet mental health needs.
We will be covering these key issues and others throughout the month of July.
Do you have specific issues you are interested in seeing covered on Hear Me Out in July? Please let us know!
_________________________ Passel JS. Demography of immigrant youth: Past, present and future. In: Immigrant children. The Future of Children. Princeton University and The Brookings Takanishi R. Children of immigrant families-Volume 14 Number 2. 2004. Available at: http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/article/index.xml?journalid=39&articleid=126§ionid=829&submit≥