Tag Archives: health disparities

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.


Adler, N. E. & Rehkopf, D. H. (2008). U.S. disparities in health: descriptions, causes, and mechanisms. Annual Review of Public Health, 29(1), 235-252. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.29.020907.090852

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 http://www.gallup.com/poll/121820/one-six-adults-without-health-insurance.aspx

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

U.S. Census Bureau. (2002). Census 2000. Retrieved from http://www.ct.gov/ecd/cwp/view.asp?a=1106&q=250616

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 http://www.census.gov/popest/counties/asrh/files/cc-est2008-alldata-09.csv

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2009). Community health status indicators report. Retrieved from http://communityhealth.hhs.gov/

Understanding Cultural Disparities

Social programs are just that… social. In fact, the basis of any social program is to take part in society, both philanthropists and recipients. I think that we have forgotten what it means to be social. I like to think of a well-designed social program as an invitation extended to a marginalized community to partake in society as an equal member. Only when we see ourselves as equal in title and domain can we ever think to overcome racial and ethnical biases (not to mention other more generic stereotypes).

The Lakota Nation has certainly met with strife, both on and off the various reservations. I have always understood that they have unique problems stemming from our early misunderstandings and stereotypes of savage people. In fact, not all of us were victim to this view. It was the Iroquis, after all, after whom we modelled our constitutional governement, and it was a majority of the tribes of every Nation that have assisted us in battle even when feeling oppressed.

The Cheyenne River Sioux are affected by a poor economy, including poverty, elevated rates of unemployment, and a stagnant workforce. In addition, many Native Americans living on reservations are also prone to mental disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, and suicide. Native Americans certainly have it tough, and though many are able to find their way within and without the majority culture, whether through acculturation or community-wide boons such as gaming and resource development, many falter.

The fact that Native Americans are genetically prone to alcoholism, are sociologically prone to depression, and are overall prone to health disparities, suicide, and homicide reveals that there needs to be a solid and comprehensive approach to their problems. The Cheyenne River Sioux, however proud they might be of their culture, are not immune.

So, how do I help? First, examining the cultural and genetic aspects of Native Americans in the context of substance abuse allows me to educate myself on cultural specifics that may assist me in treating a Native American patient. Also, understanding their plight allows me to consider them politically, even from afar.

As much as I would like to hop on a plane (actually, I would probably drive, anyway) and assist the Cheyenne River Sioux hands-on, it is not practical. I do believe in charity, but I certainly do not have the resources to make a meaningful contribution. I will, however, remain a proponent from within the majority culture. I believe awareness of the problems that they face will be a key in allowing others to offer them the assistance to rise above their plights to seek happiness.

Addressing Health Disparities

It is troubling to many people to see any person suffering in our society. It is even more troubling to see inequality extend to whole ethnic and racial groups within our society. We certainly do not want to be an unjust society, and we certainly want every member of our society to benefit from the technological gains made in the last century.

One of the more troublesome areas that many view as unjust is health and health care. It is unfortunate that some members of our society suffer from disparities in health. For instance, immunizations and vaccines for most of the common deadly pathogens are readily available, yet many people fail to immunize themselves or their family.

Immunization and vaccination programs have eradicated smallpox and polio and have all but eliminated the threat of measles in the United States (U. S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS], 2000). With influenza and pneumonia causing 30,000 to 41,000 deaths in the U. S., annually, the importance of vaccinating against these diseases is quite evident. Obviously, lacking immunity to a deadly pathogen is a disparate condition of health status, and Hispanic and African American populations are vaccinated with less frequency than Whites. How are these issues being addressed?

On the international level, the United Nations (2009) is addressing health disparities by attempting to eradicate poverty on a global scale. Unfortunately, many of these global initiatives have created an environment rife with economic turmoil that we are just now starting to see and understand. Though the premise of helping people out of poverty is very noble, the reality seems to be that we can only offer means for people to help themselves. Otherwise, we risk thrusting whole populations into a world they know nothing about, setting them up for failure. Poverty is based on local economy, and I believe that these interrelated problems are best addressed on the local levels with assistance from states, nations, and global endeavors. The people must direct their own path for a successful transition. They must take responsibility for their own successes and failures.

The United States addresses these concerns on a federal level, offering guidance to states and municipalities in ways to address them. One of these methods is a report from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2010 (DHHS, 2000) has two stated major goals: 1) to increase quality and years of healthy life, and 2) to eliminate major health disparities. There are also 467 objectives in 28 focus areas designed to further these two major goals. Immunization is one of these focus areas.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Disease Statistics (2010), the goal of achieving a 90% immunization rate for children 19-35 months of age is close to being reached. The combination diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (DTP) vaccine (85%) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (75%) are the only two recommended childhood vaccines that are not being administered at least 90% of the time. According to DHHS (2000), the goal for DTP vaccination was 80% in 2000. It appears that this goal has been reached and exceeded.

Conversely, older adults, age 65 and greater, are at an increased risk of contracting illnesses that could be prevented by vaccination. “In 1999 approximately 90 percent of all influenza and pneumonia-related deaths occurred in individuals aged 65 and older” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, 2007, para. 2). DHHS (2000) does not state a quantitative goal for vaccinating noninstitutionalized older adults, though it does mention a need to “increase the proportion of noninstitutionalized adults who are vaccinated annually against influenza and ever vaccinated against pneumococcal disease” (p. 42). In 2000, 46% of the population in the U. S. were vaccinated against pneumococcal disease, and 64% were vaccinated against influenza (DHHS, 2000). In 2009, pneumococcal disease vaccinations increased by 15%, whereas influenza vaccinations increased by only 3% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2010).

Striving to eliminating health disparities is a noble endeavor; however, the mere fact of attaining this goal contributes to the increase of health care disparity. By increasing the health care delivery model for one at-risk population, we must accept negative gains in the delivery of health care for all other populations. This is an example of the law of conservation describing the divisional nature of finite resources: when an isolated system undergoes change, its change in entropy will be zero or greater than zero (Negi & Anand, 1985). This concept is better stated as it applies to the zero-sum game of our economics today. Kathleen Madigan (2010), in a Wall Street Journal blog post, stated, “More spending in one area has to be financed by less purchases elsewhere” (para. 5).

Two conclusions can be drawn from observing this phenomena in health care. First, if people are spending their health care dollars on other staples, such as food, clothing, and shelter, then we should see a decline in the health of individuals that are making these choices. Second, within health care, in order to increase a focus on one population, an equal negative effect will be seen in all other population groups.

In all aspects of health care delivery, care should be taken to ensure just and equitable delivery of care regardless of socioeconomic factors, race, gender, religion, or creed. All people should have access to the minimum required care in order to maintain a healthy and productive life. We can counsel and educate our patients and clients to best health practices, but we cannot, however, force people to choose health over other facets of their lives.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. (2010). Immunization. FastStats. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/immunize.htm

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities. (2007). Eliminate disparities in adult & child immunization rates. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/omhd/AMH/factsheets/immunization.htm

Madigan, K. (2010, August 3). With wallets thin, consumers face zero-sum game. Real time economics: Economic insight and analysis from the Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2010/08/03/with-wallets-thin-consumers-face-zero-sum-game/

Negi, A. S. & Anand, S. C. (1985). The second law of thermodynamics. A textbook of physical chemistry (pp. 241-289). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/

United Nations. (2009). The millenium development goals report: 2009. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/pdf/MDG_Report_2009_ENG.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000, November). Healthy People 2010: Understanding and improving health (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: U. S. Government Printing Office.

Cultural Influences on Health Disparities

Disparities in the availability, access, and delivery of health care are a great and growing concern. Some of the factors leading to disparite health include race, socioeconomic status, and gender (Chen, Martin, & Mattews, 2006). Chen et al. describes how race and socioeconomic status are major factors in the United States, based on the Healthy People 2010 data (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2000). According to the results of this study, our public health efforts seem to be misguided. As the researchers of this study indicate, “race and SES effects on child health are best understood in concert, rather than separately” (p. 705). The differences in race and socioeconomic status are a factor only to White and Black children when looking at prevalence rates for activity limitations and circulatory conditions, as illustrated by Chen et al. in Figures 1 and 2. These figures show that higher education actually has a small but negative effect on the health status of Asians and Hispanics while having a dramatically positive effect on Blacks. Additionally, in Figure 3, Chen et al. show a significant negative effect of education on incidence rates for acute respiratory conditions. There is no significant relationship for the same with regards to Whites or Blacks.

This study shows that there are certainly correlations between race, economic status, and differences in the health status of children in America, but these factors might only be relative. We need to understand if other factors can be identified as causative. In order to explain how Whites and Blacks share correlations while Asians and Hispanics share correlations, we might consider the length of time each population has been exposed to American culture. Whites and Blacks have been in America for over 300 years while Asians and Hispanics have migrated more recently. In addition, there is also evidence of attitude and preference differences for minorities towards health care, though the Institute of Medicine (2002) marginalizes this phenomena in their study.

As a health care provider and regardless of the causes of disparities in health status, it is advisable that I understand these causes so that I may better direct a patient’s care with a holistic understanding of the patient.


Chen, E., Martin, A. D., & Matthews, K. A. (2006). Understanding health disparities: The role of race and socioeconomic status in children’s health. American Journal of Public Health, 96, 702-708. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2004.048124

Institute of Medicine. (2002). Unequal treatment: What healthcare providers need to know about racial and ethnic disparities in health. Retrieved from http://www.nap.edu/html/unequal_treatment/reportbrief.pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Healthy people 2010: Understanding and improving health. Washington, DC: Author.