Fostering equity in mental heath

July 5, 2024 Providence Health Team


In this article:

  • 20% to 25% of people around the world will have some form of mental illness during their lifetime.

  • Minority communities struggle to access mental health care services due to stigma and cultural differences. 

  • Understanding mental health symptoms and when to seek help can improve your overall well-being and health outcomes. 

Fostering equity in mental health

An estimated 20% to 25% of people around the world will experience some level of mental illness during their lifetime. While the cause of mental health disease is not always clear cut, experts agree that it’s a combination of nature and nurture. Factors that drive and promote overall health and wellness are lacking in minority communities, which leaves some populations more vulnerable to the impact of mental health conditions.

On a recent episode of Providence’s Culture of Health podcast, Nwando Anyaoku, M.D., chief health equity officer at Providence Swedish, spoke with Arpan Waghray, M.D., psychiatrist and CEO of Providence’s Well Being Trust about the challenges and obstacles to mental health care that minority communities often face.

“Ensuring everyone has access to appropriate support and services is the key to helping people flourish and realize their fullest potential,” says Dr. Waghray. “Change will happen only when people demand access to care and support for mental illness just like they would for any physical illness.”

Understanding mental health

The signs and symptoms of mental illness are not always obvious. This is because most people experience a wide range of emotions from day to day. It’s completely normal to feel sad or upset when things aren’t going well and Dr. Waghray says that is generally an appropriate emotional response.

He explains that mental health disorders often have a cluster of symptoms. Mental health professionals must take into consideration a person’s range of symptoms when diagnosing a mental health condition.

Understanding when feelings or emotions are concerning, as well as when to seek care from a mental health provider, is an important part of one’s overall health care. 

“The biggest challenges providers face in treating mental illness are misconceptions about the source of mental health disorders,” says Dr. Waghray. “Historically there has been a lot of stigma and suggestion that mental illness is a sign of personal weakness or someone’s personal failing. That is categorically untrue.”

He adds that if you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms that impact your daily living activities, it’s time to seek help. This is vitally important if you or a loved one feels that life is no longer worth living. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has additional resources to help.

Adapting to cultural differences

Barriers to mental health care can range from a lack of access to services to misunderstanding the role culture plays in mental illness. Dr. Waghray explains that it’s difficult to diagnose and support someone with a mental illness without appropriate cultural awareness and responsiveness. He says that when care providers take the time to evaluate and understand which groups are not getting the help and support they require, it paves the way for an appropriate response that meets their needs.

“Working to build bridges and move toward a health system that works for everyone, not just for a particular group of people, is our goal,” says Dr. Waghray. “At Providence, we are identifying ways to diagnose and treat common mental health illness in populations that have previously been overlooked.”

Evaluating mental health programs, treatment plans and access to care is crucial to ensuring access for everyone. Dr. Waghray explains that in some instances, treatments and services are available, but people are not accessing them. Training providers to understand cultural differences and how mental health services are perceived is a crucial step.   

“It’s really important that we enrich our teams, not just with people of different backgrounds, but to build our competency of how to deliver care across cultures,” says Dr. Waghray. “If we have a diverse pool of providers, then I think we all enrich one another. If someone needs help and support for themselves or their loved one, we need to make sure that we’re always there for them.”

Driving advocacy and change in minority communities

Providence is working to identify ways to address the most common sources of mental health issues and disability and implement programs and other interventions that can have a positive impact. Dr. Waghray says normalizing the use of mental health services for everyone is crucial. He believes that empowering children and young adults by boosting their health care literacy can help eliminate stigmas that hamper access to care. That means giving them the tools, vocabulary and understanding to recognize when they need help managing their mental health.

“In some minority communities we are offering virtual therapy free of charge to support children who need mental health care services,” says Dr. Waghray. “It’s just one example of how we can move outside of our walls and comfort zones to go into the community to drive real change in mental health equity.”

Contributing caregiver

Arpan Waghray, M.D., is a psychiatrist and CEO of Providence’s Well Being Trust.

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Related resources

Addressing mental health disparities

Mental health help is just a mouse-click away

Exploring the connections between social factors and health

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.


About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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