In 2008, July was designated as National Minority Mental Health Month to raise awareness about how minority groups are impacted by mental illness.

Millions of Americans live with a mental health condition, which does not discriminate based on race, gender, or income. Consider these 2013-2014 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that evaluate mental health status by race, based on the number of adults reporting serious psychological distress:

  • American Indian/Alaska Native — 5.4 percent
  • Hispanic — 4.5 percent
  • African American — 3.4 percent
  • Non-Hispanic Whites — 3.2 percent
  • Asian — 1.9 percent

Although anyone can be affected by a mental illness, minorities often face many problems when it comes to getting mental health treatment, such as lack of available care or insurance, language barriers, a perceived stigma around mental illness, or being unable to attend appointments because they cannot take time off from work, get child care, or find transportation.

Substance Abuse

One area of mental health that affects many minorities at a higher rate is substance abuse. According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) research, in 2014, illegal drug use among Native Hawaiians or other Pacific Islanders ages 12 and over was 15.6 percent, compared to the national average of 10.2 percent. For Native Americans and Alaska Natives, the rate of was 14.9 percent, while African-Americans were at 12.4 percent, Hispanics at 8.9 percent, and Asian Americans at 4.1 percent.

SAMHSA also noted the barriers that minorities may face on the path to treatment, saying “communities of color tend to experience a greater burden of mental and substance use disorders, often due to poorer access to care, inappropriate care, and higher social, environmental, and economic risk factors.”

That is why SAMHSA currently has a Prevention of Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Initiative that aims to use prevention and early intervention to reduce the impact of such disorders. The initiative focuses on high-risk populations that include minorities who are experiencing behavioral health disparities.

If you or a loved one has an abuse problem, you can find more information online at, the website for the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is another area in which minorities are hard-hit. According to the Alzheimer’s Prevention Initiative, it is estimated the number of minorities with Alzheimer’s will more than double from 2.7 million to 6.9 million by 2030.

And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, African-Americans are about twice as likely to get Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, while Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to get the disease. Unfortunately, there is little data about the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease in other racial and ethnic groups.

Why are African-Americans and Hispanics at higher risk? One reason is that high blood pressure and diabetes, which are risk factors for Alzheimer’s and other dementias, are more frequently found in African-Americans and Hispanics than in whites. Also, lower levels of education and income among older racial and ethnic minorities may contribute to higher risk, the Alzheimer’s Association says. There also is research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that indicates genetics may play a part in the higher risk for African-Americans.

In addition to being at higher risk, there is Medicare data that indicates African-Americans are not diagnosed at the same rate as others and, when they are diagnosed, it is usually during the later stages of Alzheimer’s, often due to lack of access to health care.

To ensure the best care, early diagnosis is important. That’s why, if you suspect a loved one may have Alzheimer’s, please be sure to alert their care team so they can help you get the proper care and resources for them.