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Surgeon General's Report Highlights Mental Health Problems Among Minorities

Surgeon General's Report Highlights Mental Health Problems Among Minorities

Words like depression and anxiety do not exist in certain American Indian languages, but the suicide rate for American Indian and Alaskan Native (AI/AN) males between the ages of 15 and 24 is two to three times higher than the national rate. The overall prevalence of mental health problems among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AA/PIs) does not significantly differ from the prevalence rates for other Americans, but AA/PIs have the lowest utilization rates of mental health services among ethnic populations. Mexican Americans born outside the United States have lower prevalence rates of any lifetime disorders than Mexican Americans born in the United States, and 25% of Mexican-born immigrants show signs of mental illness or substance abuse, compared with 48% of U.S.-born Mexican Americans. Somatic symptoms are almost twice as likely to be found among African Americans than among white American populations.

There have been numerous efforts, both government- and privately-funded, to develop plans and policies to assist the mentally ill minorities in the United States. With the recent influx of immigrants to the United States from poorer countries, it is vital to address their mental health care needs.

A recently issued report from U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, M.D., examined mental health care issues among minorities. "The cultures from which people hail affect all aspects of mental health and illness," wrote Satcher in Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity, a supplement to his 1999 Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General.

Culture affects the ways in which patients from a given culture communicate and manifest symptoms of mental illness, their style of coping, their family and community supports and their willingness to seek treatment, Satcher wrote. The cultures of the clinician and the service system influence diagnosis, treatment and service delivery, he added. Cultural and social influences are not the only determinants of mental illness and patterns of service use, but they do play important roles.

Two important points emerge from the supplement: there are wide disparities in the kinds of treatment available to members of ethnic minorities in the United States, and there are significant gaps in the available research about the way in which mental illness affects racial and ethnic groups.

Further, the report notes that wide differences exist within minority groups that are lumped together in statistical analyses and in many aid programs. American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs), for example, include 561 separate tribes with some 200 languages recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Hispanic Americans come from cultures as diverse as Mexico and Cuba. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent 43 separate ethnic groups from countries ranging from India to Indonesia. Fifty-three percent of African Americans live in the South and have different cultural experiences from those who live in other parts of the country. The report states:


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