You’re Not Alone: Access to Mental Health Services

  Christelle Bourgeois via Unsplash
Christelle Bourgeois via Unsplash

Originally published June 22, 2016.
Trigger: depression, anxiety, neglect, abuse

Deciding to seek out help to deal with anxiety or depression is tough enough. So, it’s hard to believe that some experience added pressures when trying to seek help. A person’s socioeconomic status and race can be huge factors when it comes to the ease of receiving help and that should not go unnoticed. While the prices of medication and therapy can break the bank, getting the runaround treatment because of your race creates an entirely new set of frustrations.

Last year, The Atlantic published an article about this very topic. The author described a study conducted by Princeton University doctoral student, Heather Kugelmass. Kuglemass selected 320 doctors in New York City from a directory of Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield’s HMO plan. Next, she had voice actors call the offices asking to schedule appointments using different scripts. Two scripts were supposed to reflect white callers (working class and middle class) and two scripts were to reflect black callers (also working class and middle class). She found that 28 percent of the actors reading from the white, middle class script got called back. Only 17 percent of black middle class callers received a call back to book an appointment.

When it comes to both white and black working class individuals, the call back rates were the same, at eight percent.

While it is hard to assume race over the phone, even if dialects are changed, the study confirms what so many black people have experienced when trying to seek help; a lot of rejection. Based on these results, a middle class black man would have to call 81 different offices just to set up an initial appointment; a white woman would only have to call five.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to combat this. I’ve rounded up a few solutions for readers who may be struggling to get the help they deserve due to financial limitations or racial discrimination.

1. Check to see what your job can do

Familiarize yourself with your job’s health benefits. Many companies have health plans that include mental health help, meaning the cost of your therapy visits or medicine could be significantly reduced or free of charge. Some companies offer confidential help through EAP or Employee Assistance Programs. Check out your company’s human resources offerings to see all the benefits they offer. If it’s still unclear, speak with someone you trust at your job to find out more info. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

2. Benefits for students

This next tip is for students at any level; undergraduate, graduate, J.D., and even doctoral candidates usually qualify for free therapy through their university counseling center. Each school is different, but check your school’s student health website to get a full list of what is included and available to students. The stress of school can be a lot at times, and it is more than okay to see someone and talk about it.

3. Turn to toxic-free social media spaces

Social media can also be a source of comfort for individuals struggling with depression or anxiety. While it is not a replacement for seeing a professional, hashtags such as #MyDepressionLooksLike or #BreaktheStigma are full of people who are willing to be open and honest about what they’re going through and share what has helped them cope. Beyond these hashtags, virtual therapy is also an option. It is usually lower in cost, flexible so it works with your schedule and can be less intimidating than the process of going to an office once a week, which can come with its own set of anxieties.

4. Call a hotline

Lastly, there are a plethora of hotlines and online chatting options by which users can call and text anonymously to talk about anything they may be dealing with. This option completely eliminates the opportunity to be discriminated against because these resources are specifically set up to help anyone who may be struggling with their mental health. While there is no guarantee that one could call every week and get the same operator, this is a great resource for those times when a loved one when is not available or you just need someone to listen without any judgment. There are hotlines for domestic abusedepression, LGBTQ individuals and drug abuse.

If you’ve been completely ignored when trying to seek help, know that it isn’t your fault. Don’t let the ignorance of a few stop you from getting the help you want. There are people who want to help and will help. 


Know of any other affordable services for those seeking mental health help? Share them in the comments. This post originally appeared in Ourselves Black.

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