One of the strongest attributes of a modern workplace is a comprehensive and supportive understanding of mental health. Decades earlier, illnesses like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder would be met in the workplace with disdain and alienation. Generally speaking, those days are past, and most modern businesses are committed to healthy, practical policies on mental health. This approach makes for healthier employees, but it also makes for healthier businesses—when employees feel supported and happy in their workplace, the workplace benefits.
July celebrates a specific and important segment of this issue with Minority Mental Health Month. The goal of the campaign is to highlight the ways that mental illness is compounded within minority groups, and while it seems divisive, it’s a critical distinction that links social inequity with mental illness.
The stats on minority mental health are not new, but they continue to be shockingly disproportionate. According to a 2012 study, 28.3% of all Native Americans dealt with a mental illness, compared to 19.3% of white Americans. Compared with straight youth, LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for young Canadian First Nations people, and suicide rates in Inuit youth are more than 11 times higher than the national average.
There are plenty of reasons for these disparities. Minority communities face bias and discrimination that, in many cases, can restrict or prevent access to care. This discrimination can also come in the form of a wage gap, thereby financially inhibiting individuals’ access to already-costly care. Language barriers and cultural insensitivity, both within and outside of health care settings, account for further alienation from mental health services. The Office of Minority Health notes that these communities also receive lower quality of care. These compounding issues are just a glimpse of the minutiae involved in mental health in marginalized communities.
These barriers to access, regardless of how they manifest, contribute to the stark statistics mentioned earlier. While these issues are largely institutional, and individual change seems implausible, a key first step in mending these gaps is recognizing that they exist. Education and social literacy (that is, understanding the nuanced challenges faced by different social groups, and being able to discern who faces them) are important tools for citizens to develop.
For equitable and humane employers, it’s doubly important to be conscious of these gaps, and while corporate policy regarding these inequities is, at best, on a case-by-case basis at this point, it’s worth considering how you can work not just to compensate for these issues, but to hopefully eradicate them. The old aphorism that ‘It takes a village’ rings true here, and combatting imbalance in mental health in the workplace is an important part of the larger struggle for equality.