National Minority Health Month: Understanding And Addressing Disparities

By Sparklle Rainne (They/Them)|Updated April 28, 2022

National Minority Health Month takes place in April of every year. Established in April 2001 by the National Minority Health Month Foundation, National Minority Health Month is an annual event dedicated to raising awareness for and addressing the health disparities that impact racial and ethnic minorities. Disparities in healthcare have been and continue to be deeply prevalent for minority groups, and we must work to bridge these gaps. It's time to create a better future with improved health and healthcare resources. In observance of National Minority Health Month, let's take the time to discuss what disparities in healthcare can look like for minority groups and how to address them not just in April but throughout the year.

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What Are Disparities In Healthcare?

The definition of the word disparity is "a noticeable and usually significant difference or dissimilarity." Other words that might be used are non-equality or inequality. A minority group does not necessarily indicate fewer people within that group, though it can. A minority group may also be considered a majority-minority group, which means that, even though there are many people within that minority group, the individuals within this group still may face several different disparities.

A common misconception about health and well-being is that an individual's lifestyle choices either entirely or predominantly determine it. In reality, health and well-being are influenced by various factors, some of which are frequently overlooked. These factors can include genetics, personal behaviors, environmental factors, public access to adequate medical care, and social factors, all of which can be interconnected.

What Disparities Do Minority Groups Face?

With it in mind that well-being is influenced by such a range of factors, it's important to understand how disparities show up and affect health both in and outside of healthcare settings. Examples of health disparities that individuals in a minority group may face include but aren't limited to:

  • Higher levels of poverty can negatively impact mental and physical health in many ways. While disparities in wealth are improving, they are by no means gone, with 2019 statistics from census.gov showing that the median household income for Black households was $45,438. In contrast, the median income was $56,113 for Hispanic households, $76,057 for non-Hispanic White households, and $98,174 for Asian households.
  • Lower access to diagnosis and recognition of symptoms among medical and mental health professionals. One example of this is seen in the detection of eating disorders*. Various studies have found that clinicians are less likely to detect the same eating disorder symptoms in minority groups, with one study specifically noting disparities in detecting symptoms in Black and Hispanic women.
  • Lower access to accurate healthcare information and healthcare screenings. These may include mental and physical resources, with one notable disparity seen in cancer screenings.
  • Lack of access to clean water, clean air, and adequate nutrition. For example, various minority groups are more likely to live in food deserts, areas without clean drinking water, or areas with higher levels of air pollution.

There are also lower rates of healthcare coverage in minority groups. It's important to note that minority stress itself can also impact health. Although this is inclusive of concerns like poverty, which disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic households, other areas that minority stress may show up include discrimination, harassment, and poor social support. An individual may face macro or microaggressions in the world and those seen in healthcare settings, thus putting people at increased risk for poor mental and physical health outcomes. A provider who doesn't know disparities may overlook important aspects of an individual's care. With all of this in mind, what can we do?

*Eating disorders are serious, and they can affect anyone. If you or someone you know is living with an eating disorder or might be, please call or text the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Addressing Disparities In Minority Health

It's not only medical and mental health professionals who can help bridge gaps and address disparities in minority health. Anyone can play a role. Here are some ways things you can do to support the goals of National Minority Health Month, both now and throughout the year:

  • Get Involved With National Minority Health Month Events.

There are several ways to get involved this month. Review the activities on the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) website to learn about ways to get involved with and support the goals of National Minority Health Month. These activities can involve sharing educational videos, graphics, and more, as a mechanism to continue spreading awareness.

  • Help People And Communities Get The Resources They Need.

As discussed, many minority groups are at a higher risk for things like poverty, hunger or food insecurity, living in high pollution areas, and more. These things not only impact a person's health status, but they often go overlooked and can affect a person's ability to receive care when they need it. Join in on or donate to initiatives and campaigns that help people access clean water, food, general safety, screenings for health conditions, affordable mental and physical healthcare services, and more, as well as those that seek to reduce pollution and other things that may disproportionately affect the health of some minority groups. Take steps to back initiatives, campaigns, and fundraisers run by minorities. This way, your time and money are more likely to go to the direct, self-identified needs.

  • Follow And Learn From Minorities Online.

The best way to learn about the needs of minority groups is to listen to individuals who are part of a minority group and have lived experience, and it is a privilege to do so. Many advocates, who may share various titles, including activists, therapists, primary care doctors, and more, offer training opportunities such as webinars or speaking events that occur in person or online. You may also be able to find resources like blogs, organizations, and newsletters that are minority-led online. So that other people can find these resources and learn as well, you may share them online via social media and other means.

  • Work To Make The Spaces You're In Inclusive.

Work to make your spaces more inclusive, including those in educational, medical, social, and other settings. Identify and unpack your own biases, including possible implicit biases, and see where bias may show up in your spaces. Don't be a bystander to discrimination or harassment. Learn more about how to intervene as a bystander here.

  • Fight For Inclusivity In Educational And Professional Settings.

We must continue to expand resources for individuals who want to join the medical or mental health field that is a part of minority groups, as this is part of how we bridge the gaps. Various studies have found that when someone can access a doctor or another medical professional who is part of the same minority group, they receive more effective care. If you are part of a minority group yourself, this is one way to advocate yourself and potentially get better care. Examples of professionals you might look for that are of the same minority group include but aren't limited to primary care physicians, mental health counselors and therapists, psychiatrists, massage therapists, and dietitians. This can be done through a web search, or at times, via a provider directory.

Mental Health And Minority Groups

If you are part of a minority group, it's important to care for yourself - whatever that means for you. It can be challenging and even tiring to advocate for yourself at times, and it's important to have tools for self-care and to cope in place. Social support and community can be incredibly important, which one may find face-to-face or online via support groups and other avenues. Sometimes, there are support groups for people in minority groups living with specific concerns, which can provide a crucial sense of connection. If you need a space to talk about something impacting your emotional, psychological, or social well-being, consider speaking with a therapist or counselor who can help.

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Online Therapy

Internet-based therapy is convenient, making it easier to access the services you need. You don't have to commute to a therapy office when you get therapy online, which is often advantageous for those in rural areas, with busy schedules, or who otherwise prefer online services. Platforms like BetterHelp can give you access to a wider range of mental health professionals who offer talk therapy, including those who may specialize in the concern you're seeking help for because you aren't restricted to care professionals in your immediate city or town alone. BetterHelp plans are often more affordable than in-person therapy services are without insurance, and financial aid may be available to those who need it. There are over 20,000 independent and licensed therapists on the BetterHelp platform, and if you need to at any point in time, you can switch or cancel therapy services. Online therapy through BetterHelp is backed by research, and it's proven effective for several different concerns that can impact a person's mental health.

Join BetterHelp or read our FAQs and therapist reviews to learn more about the platform if you're ready to get started.

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