July 19, 2019

Addressing access and stigma around mental health care

Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson highlights our continued focus on mental health.

The fight against stigma and efforts to increase access to mental health care have complex challenges. We need to acknowledge the fact that mental health and wellness does not discriminate based on race, yet unfortunately, background and identity make seeking mental health and addiction care difficult.

I’m convinced that reducing stigma around mental health and wellness and encouraging Americans of all ages to seek mental health and addiction care services is the next frontier for health. I’ve mentioned before that Kaiser Permanente has been committed to mental health and addiction care through its efforts. In 2016, we made mental health an even greater priority. A big part of that effort includes addressing the disparities evident in mental health and wellness across America.

Seeking mental health and addiction care is a challenge we need to address — fewer than half of all adults who experience a mental health disorder receive treatment, and we know stigma can be a strong barrier to getting help. An even smaller percentage of those struggling with substance misuse get any kind of care. It’s even more challenging for members of various racial and ethnic minority groups to receive/access care and treatment. According to the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans receive treatment at a rate 50% lower than non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics at a rate 60% lower, and Asian Americans 70% lower than non-Hispanic whites.

Across Kaiser Permanente we are focused on building a culturally competent and sensitive model for care. We also make a concerted effort to staff our mental health and wellness facilities with people who represent the communities they serve and understand cultural nuances unique to each.

This is especially critical in mental health and wellness, where language barriers, sensitivities specific to culture, and higher levels of stigma in some communities can contribute to the barriers we face when it comes to equity.

We’re also looking at creative ways we can make an impact in our communities. In Southern California we support a mental health and wellness program spearheaded by Charles R. Drew University called Mindful Beauty, focused on training African American beauty salon hair stylists to spot signs of depression in their clients and refer them to local treatment and support groups. Depression is common among African American women and the 7-module training program for hair stylists is intended to use their relationship with clients as a new avenue to help reduce stigma and provide support for women with depression in that community.

Also, we’ve moved forward with expanding our postgraduate training program across California to better position Kaiser Permanente as a premier mental health learning organization and to make us the place where mental health professionals want to train, work, and enjoy a long career. We’re activating this initiative with a $10 million investment for new fellows in degreed mental health professions. We expect to open enrollment for this expanded program in the next few months, with the goal of having approximately 300 individuals in this program statewide.

For my part, I’m continuing to encourage people to speak openly about mental health to help make it no different from a physical affliction, in whatever community or family you are a part of. Our Find Your Words public health awareness campaign supports people to do just that. My hope is that we will all take part in ending the stigma still associated with mental health and addiction conditions. We have work to do.