Determinants of Health – Mental Illness

When attempting to solve many of the issues relevant to public health, it is essential to understand the factors that contribute to disparities across various ethnic, racial, cultural and socioeconomic boundaries (Satcher & Higginbotham, 2008). In northeastern Connecticut, however, health disparities are primarily related to the socioeconomic strata, as much of the population is Caucasian and there are identifiable health disparities within this group (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002, 2008; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009). The disparity that I will focus on in this paper is mental illness.

According to Adler and Rehkopf (2008), unjust social disparity leads to greater health disparity, but what is unjust about social disparity? Adler and Rehkopf continue to describe efforts of researchers to evaluate how socioeconomic status, both, in conjunction with and independent of race or ethnicity, contribute to health disparities. There exists a significant difference in the manner in which different cultures approach mental health needs (Hatzenbuehler, Keyes, Narrow, Grant, & Hasin, 2008). Whites, who are more prone to suffering mental health issues, according to McGuire and Miranda (2008), preferring to seek professional care while Blacks are more likely to opt for self-directed care. Though Wang, Burglund, and Kessler (2001) tell of mental health treatment disparities between Whites and Blacks, in their study, 14 times more Whites responded than Blacks which may suggest that Whites are more apt to discuss mental health issues and Blacks might not unless they are motivated by extrinsic factors, such as poor care or the impression thereof. As long as Blacks are not prevented or discouraged from seeking care, there is no injustice in choosing self-care; however, it may not be the most effective option. Cultural awareness on the part of health care providers who may have an opportunity to provide health education to Blacks may alone increase the utilization of mental health services among the Black demographic.

More importantly, mental illness often exists in the presence of poverty and the lack of education. Much of the literature, such as Schwartz and Meyer (2010), seems to make the implication that low socioeconomic status is a causative risk-factor for mental illness, yet the literature also makes the distinction that one of the lowest groups on the socioeconomic ladder, Blacks, have a lower incidence, overall, of mental illness. This may be true in some instances; however, it is more likely that mental illness may be the proximal cause for an afflicted person’s socioeconomic status, especially if the illness manifested early enough to interfere with the person’s education.

More research needs to be undertaken to identify effective programs that aim to mitigate bias of mental health conditions within the community. As mental health disorders lose their stigma, more people who suffer from mental health issues will be able to seek care comfortably and unafraid, leading to increased treatment rates and increased synthesis within the community. This synthesis alone would alleviate much of the socioeconomic burden. Additionally, we need to shift our focus and strive to fix health issues locally, not nationally or globally. The world is comprised of a network of communities of individuals. Impacting the individual is the first step to affecting positive social change. Focusing on individual health will ultimately impact community, national, and global health.

The U.S. Health care system is overtaxed in caring for people with mental illness. According to Insel (2008), we need to refocus our efforts on providing care for mental illness to reduce the enormous indirect costs estimated at $193.2-billion per year. A viable solution in addressing mental illness as a health disparity, I feel, lies in understanding the manner that mental illness causes lower socioeconomic status which, in turn, causes risk of disparate care. Programs designed to aim for situational mitigation instead of mental health recovery will be less costly, more effective and, overall, more ideal. There will still be an obvious and great need for treatment and recovery programs, but with mitigation, I posit that they will be more effective, also.


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Hatzenbuehler, M. L., Keyes, K. M., Narrow, W. E., Grant, B. F., & Hasin, D. S. (2008). Racial/ethnic disparities in service utilization for individuals with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders in the general population. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(7), 1112-1121. doi:10.4088/JCP.v69n0711

Insel, T. R. (2008). Assessing the economic costs of serious mental illness. American Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 663-665. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2008.08030366

McGuire, T. G. & Miranda, J. (2008). New evidence regarding racial and ethnic disparities in mental health: policy implications. Health Affairs, 27(2), 393-403. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.27.2.393

Newport, F. & Mendes, E. (2009, July 22). About one in six U.S. adults are without health insurance: Highest uninsured rates among Hispanics, the young, and those with low incomes. Gallup-Heathways Well-Being Index. Retrieved from

Satcher, D. & Higginbotham, E. J. (2008). The public health approach to eliminating health disparities. American Journal of Public Health, 98(3), 400–403. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.123919

Schwartz, S. & Meyer, I. H. (2010). Mental health disparities research: The impact of within and between group analyses on tests of social stress hypotheses. Social Science and Medicine, 70, 1111-1118. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.11.032

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U.S. Census Bureau. (2008). Population estimates: Annual estimates of the resident population by age, sex, race, and Hispanic origin for counties in Connecticut: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2008 [Data]. Retrieved from

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