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Mental Health & DEI

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Mental health affects us all differently and can be examined through various DEI lenses such as gender, race, orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, and age. These, however, are not the only factors at play when it comes to mental health, but the data in each category provides insight into how each group of people lives. When descriptors overlap, such as a black female with a disability, the work-life issues that affect mental health can be even greater.

Here are some facts that only scratch the surface on the connection between DEI and mental health:

  • Based on Columbia University research, black adults are 20% more likely to experience a serious mental health concern compared to white adults.

  • CARE International’s recent gender analysis found that 27% of women experience experienced increased mental health struggles during the COVID-19 pandemic compared with 10% of men.

  • In 2020, it was found by Science that people with low incomes are up to three times more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Acknowledging the disproportions behind this data is not enough – we must ask ourselves why we see these inequalities in our society. As DEI initiatives are more encouraged and implemented in the workplace, employers gain awareness of the multitude of ways that belonging to different groups and with diverse background can impact a person’s mental health. This commitment to improving DEI in the workplace is connected to improving access to effective mental health care services.

Demographics not only affect mental health, but access to mental health care. This is why understanding the connection between DEI and mental health is important. Data from a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study showed that of the adults who accessed mental health services over one year:

  • 16.6% were white.

  • 15.6% were American Indian or Alaskan Native.

  • 8.6% were black.

  • 7.3% were Hispanic.

  • 4.9% were Asian.

There are a multitude of reasons for such low rates of access to mental health care among BIPOC groups:

  • Lack of transportation or childcare.

  • Fear of racism and discrimination.

  • Different cultural perceptions surrounding mental health.

  • Hesitations about and/or the inability to take time off of work.

  • Language barriers.

  • Barriers finding mental health providers who understand their culture, background, and identity.

  • Etc.

While the above example is based on race, there are exponentially more research-backed examples that connect the dots between lack of access to mental health services and gender, age, LGBTQA+ identity, and other demographics. It is important to show that your staff not only have access to mental health care, but that they can work with culturally appropriate providers in a way that makes them feel comfortable. Work-life services that are designed to serve diverse employee populations are essential in addressing the many barriers that people on your team may face when seeking access to mental health services.

Supporting DEI means supporting mental health. Organizations must ensure that employees have the support they need to thrive. Making effective, accessible, and culturally appropriate mental health care available is just the beginning. Leadership needs to be educated and empowered to respond appropriately to DEI and mental health issues. EAP and mental health benefits should be easy to understand and accessible to all. To create a truly healthy workplace, employers need to fully embrace DEI and mental health, together.

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