Bipolar disorder, affecting up to 4% of the global population, does not discriminate. The disease manifests equally in people of all races, comprising of mood episodes involving “highs” called mania, and “lows” called depression. But your experience being treated for
mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, depends on your race.
Study after study shows that black, Hispanic, and Latinx people face disparities in mental health care. Minorities have less access to mental health treatment than whites, are less likely to seek care, and are more likely to receive poorer quality care when they do seek it.
Specific to bipolar disorder, black people are more likely to be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia than bipolar disorder, as compared to whites. Similarly, Hispanic people are more likely to receive a misdiagnosis of depression. Even though the diagnostic criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) has improved, racial differences in diagnosis continue to exist. And African Americans are more likely to terminate mental health treatment prematurely.
The results of one new study prove that non-Hispanic whites are significantly more likely than other racial groups to receive medication. Asians are least likely to use prescribed medication.
Take a look at this chart, which lists mental health treatment statistics by race:
Some of these outcomes, such as the likelihood of Asians to allow their families to influence their mental health treatment decisions, are culturally-based. Others are due to racial inequalities present in the U.S. healthcare system.
But what can the white person do about this discrimination? The mental health field is dominated by white people, specifically women, describing their experiences with anxiety and depression–even though both conditions are more likely to occur in blacks.
If you’re white and you suffer from a mental illness, don’t stop talking about it, but be cautious about presenting your experience as the default. Make sure to use your platform to allow other racial groups to speak. Support organizations like Black Mental Health Alliance.
Above all, listen to minorities when they share their various trials. Demonstrate that you care about their struggles and signal boost their posts. If you’re white, you have a powerful privilege and a responsibility to use it properly, to help buoy others.