Tackling Behavioral Health Barriers in the BIPOC Community

Emily Snow — September 14, 2020

Many of us have been forced to upend our lives for the foreseeable future to combat the COVID-19 public health crisis. And on top of the pandemic, we are experiencing heightened emotions and activity in support of the ongoing racial justice movement. Although collectively as a community many of us are struggling, the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community undoubtedly face additional barriers when it comes to behavioral health.

Behavioral health is explained in a previous post from The Blueprint as the overarching term to describe the connection between an individual’s behaviors and the health of their mind and body. Conditions that fall within “behavioral health” include depression, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder and anxiety. Truth be told, many people you know may face a behavioral health challenge, but BIPOC suffer disproportionately. Behavioral health is not just biological – it’s sociological, too.

It’s more important than ever to bring awareness to the nationwide issue and challenges the BIPOC community faces. As Blue KC’s Director of Behavioral Health Initiatives, I will also share our efforts to tackle these barriers here in the Greater Kansas City community.

Behavioral Health in the BIPOC Community

In Kansas City, we’ve brought awareness to how social determinants of health can shape the health outcomes of residents. An individual’s zip code, economic status, family structure and skin color directly correlate with their behavioral health, greatly impacting the BIPOC community.

For example, the Black population represents only 12 percent of America’s total population, but because of systemic barriers, they’re considered one of the most high-risk populations for a behavioral health condition. Black Americans, while making up a smaller portion of the overall population, also make up 40 percent of the homeless population, 38 percent of the prison population and 33 percent of the foster care system. Moreover, according to Mental Health America, multiracial people were most likely to screen positive or at-risk for alcohol and substance use disorders, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and psychosis. Native and indigenous people were most likely to screen positive or at-risk for bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The behavioral health challenges experienced by the BIPOC community stem from historic and intergenerational trauma, including racial discrimination and threats of harm and injury. The sociological situations of racism, classism, and health inequity can’t be ignored. All these factors are directly correlated with a person’s health outcomes, but they still affect BIPOC disproportionately.

So, it’s important to understand this historical context, the experiences of the BIPOC community, and that the healthcare industry continues to explore these conditions and their impact on a person’s health. At Blue KC, we know it’s also important to act now so we can limit further health inequities.

What Blue KC is Doing to Help

Despite being at higher risk for behavioral health issues, many members of the BIPOC community tend to view behavioral health diagnosis and treatment as a personal weakness as we work toward building trust and relationships with the community and healthcare providers. That’s why we’re doubling down on our efforts to tackle the barriers they face to access excellent behavioral care.

We recently launched Mindful by Blue KC, an enhanced suite of behavioral health services and resources aimed to help members wherever they are, whenever needed. We created Mindful by Blue KC with all members in mind, but especially BIPOC, and developed goals to address the behavioral health barriers I’ve discussed, which include eliminating stigma, improving access and lowering cost of care.

To work toward the above goals and better serve our members, we are making efforts to provide more demographic information on culturally competent providers. What this means is, if you want a doctor or therapist that shares your background like race, gender, language or culture, we’ll work to connect you with one. It’s our responsibility to adapt our services to all members of our Kansas City community and we acknowledge that this is just the first of many steps needed to be taken to address those challenges.

Whether you’re BIPOC or an ally, it is important to recognize how behavioral health challenges impact this community. While there is progress being made in the fight for social justice, these are increasingly trying times, especially for BIPOC, that will cause a rise in behavioral health challenges. At Blue KC, we want you to know we will be here for this community to both normalize the conversation around behavioral health and treat new or existing conditions.

If you’d like to understand more about behavioral health, read about the signs of a behavioral health condition. For more information on Mindful by Blue KC and how to access these services, visit MindfulBlueKC.com.