November 27, 2000
Carter Center: Lecture
Kay Torrance is communications coordinator at the Carter Center.
Less than half of Americans with severe mental disorders seek treatment,
and ethnic minorities are even less likely than caucasians to ask for
and receive treatment, said Surgeon General David Satcher at the 16th
annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy.
The symposium on ethnic minorities and mental health was held Nov. 89
at the Carter Center. It highlighted the upcoming surgeon generals
supplemental report and its goals of rectifying mental health care disparities
among ethnic minority populations. Satcher and Alvin Poussaint, noted
Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author of Lay My Burden Down:
Unraveling Suicide and the Mental Health Crisis Among African Americans,
spoke at the symposium.
The best news of this report is that we can treat 80 to 90 percent
of those with mental health disorders and return them to healthy, productive
lives, Satcher said.
The lack of health insurance, the stigma associated with mental illness
and distrust of doctors in the system are widespread within ethnic minority
populations, Satcher said. African Americans, in particular, distrust
what they see to be a white healthcare system, and Asian Americans
are especially reluctant to ask for help for fear of being shunned by
their family and community, he said.
The low number of uninsured ethnic minorities and the low efficiency
of the U.S. healthcare system have led to a lack of treatment, Satcher
Eleven million children lack access to the healthcare system,
he said. Our system lacks balance. One of three Hispanics is uninsured.
One of four African Americans is uninsured.
Poussaint said African Americans fear of accessing mental health
doctors is the result of a history of mistrust.
It was only 35 years ago that we began to get rid of segregated
hospitals, Poussaint said. Blacks had to trade their dignity
to get medical care. This fear and distrust runs very deep. He said
African Americans associate mental health doctors with the justice system:
There are only two people who can lock you upa cop and a psychiatrist.
Like other ethnic minorities, African Americans suffer from a lack of
affordable health insurance and the stigma surrounding mental illness,
Satcher and former first lady Rosalynn Carter, a longtime mental health
advocate, both called for more funding, for a national strategy to reduce
the stigma of mental illness and for health insurance companies to provide
parity among mental health treatment and other physical disorders.
Although progress is slow, Satcher pointed to a recent eventa bill
signed by President Bill Clinton, which goes into effect next year, dictates
that any federal employee health plan must include parity for mental health
treatmentas reason for hope.
Representatives from more than 100 major mental health organizations
participated in the symposium.