Mental health is becoming a more pressing issue in society and something that generates more headlines with each passing week. As a result, being able to access proper care from clinical mental health counselors is increasingly important for many people around the country.
The demand for mental health services has also made working as a clinical mental health counselor a popular career choice in healthcare. This is especially true in states like New York which are seeing an increasingly-high demand for counseling services in the mental health niche.
This has led people in the state who are thinking of working in this industry to look at how to become a licensed mental health counselor in NY. Taking further education courses, like those offered by St. Bonaventure University, is the right first step to take. With affordable fees and convenient online study, SBU’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling Online MSED program teaches aspiring mental health counselors in New York the problems and needs of individuals at all developmental levers over a life span within multicultural populations.
One thing clinical mental health counselors working in any state need to focus on is providing the best care to underserved populations. This is key to ensuring the provision of mental health services is done as fairly and ethically as possible. But what are underserved populations, and how can trained counselors in mental health deliver top-class support to them?
What are underserved populations in mental health provision?
Before we take a deeper look at how clinical mental health counselors can give high quality support to underserved populations, it is worth pinning down what this term actually means. Underserved populations are people from certain sections of society whose needs are not met as fully as those from other cultures, backgrounds, or demographics.
This can lead people in these populations to experience avoidable inequalities when it comes to getting help or receiving the same support and opportunities that other populations get. While this can be seen in many settings across daily life (from finding a job to accessing benefits or getting medical treatment), mental health provision can also prove challenging for certain sections of society. This can lead to them not getting the same level of help as other people and not being able to access the support required to tackle their mental health problems.
Who are the most underserved populations for mental health care in society?
It is true to say that populations can often be underserved based on a variety of factors or certain criteria. Inequalities around ethnicity are a good example, and this means that African-American, Latino, Native American, and Alaskan-American communities often lose out in terms of proper mental health care.
This is easy to see when you consider that, despite making up a large part of the country’s overall population, around 25% of African Americans in the US seek help with mental health – compared to around 40% of white Americans. To further make this point, the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 36% of Hispanic and Latinx Americans got help with mental health issues, despite around 52% of non-Hispanic, white Americans choosing to do so.
Although ethnicity can be one defining factor in terms of populations which are underserved for mental health provision, it can often extend beyond this as well. Homeless people can also struggle to access the support needed to work through their issues, while people with disabilities may sometimes come up against similar barriers.
People who are not fluent in the English language may also find it hard to get the help they need, and this means refugees are another underserved population in society for proper mental health care.
Why are some parts of the population underserved when it comes to mental health provision?
When you look at the provision of mental health services across the country, it is easy to assume that everyone gets the same level of access, regardless of which community they are part of. Although clinical mental health counselors fight hard to make this happen, certain barriers remain that prevent it from becoming a reality for all. By finding out more about the obstacles which prevent everyone from getting mental health assistance, counselors can work to overcome them and reduce the disparity for people from underserved populations.
But what are some of the most common barriers? Financial barriers can certainly play their part, as underserved populations often have issues with low incomes or poverty due to lack of employment opportunities. This in turn leaves them unable to pay for the mental health support they need or unable to afford health insurance which might cover it.
There can sometimes be a stigma around receiving help with mental health in specific underserved populations, and this can be a real barrier to getting assistance. This is due to how mental health problems are perceived in different cultures and the differing opinions in how best to treat them. The stigma around mental health in Indigenous Americans is a good example and shows how different attitudes toward mental health problems in specific communities can stop people getting the help they need.
Systemic and resource-focused barriers key
Although the above are perhaps the two major barriers underserved populations face in terms of getting their fair share of mental health care, these are rooted in deep seated systemic issues, which step from historic and current prejudice. This can be seen when refugees struggling with issues like depression are not seen as eligible under local or federal rules to receive support and are in fact, often the subject to campaigns calling for them to be denied care due to being a refugee.
Systemic barriers to access can be seen when one observes how mental health resources are used. Wealthy areas pay a higher level of tax which goes towards funding public services, such as education and hospitals, both of which are instrumental in raising awareness of mental health issues and treating them. Looking at this example it’s easy to see how low-income families and communities are then trapped in cycles of lacking access.
It can also describe the disparity in mental health practitioners from one state to another. If you live in a state which is suffering a mental health counselor shortage for example, you would be at a major disadvantage in terms of getting support compared to someone who lives in a state with plenty of counselors.
Why is it important for clinical mental health counselors to help underserved populations?
Anyone who is thinking of working as a clinical mental health counselor should be committed to giving the highest levels of support to anyone who needs it – regardless of their culture, background, or community. One way to achieve this is by delivering effective help for underserved populations who might not currently be getting the support they deserve.
Through achieving this, mental health counselors can help to make the system fairer and ensure that everyone gets access to services in their area. They can also do their bit to make healthcare a more diverse place in general and help to uphold the highest ethical standards in mental health.
Providing effective support to marginalized communities also keeps the people within them healthier and delivers better outcomes for the community as a whole. It also makes the wider world a safer place, as people from underserved populations are getting treatment for their problems and pose a reduced risk to society.
How can mental health counselors deliver the best help to underserved populations?
Although we have looked at the most common barriers for these populations in terms of receiving mental health support and why counselors should overcome them, you may still wonder how this can be achieved. This is especially true for anyone looking to break into the clinical mental health counseling sector as a career.
By discovering how to go about it, people in the industry are able to begin changing the narrative around who receives mental health support and helping populations who are underserved access it. But what are the best ways to do this?
Focus on culturally competent care
Cultural competence is something you might see discussed on the latest healthcare news and helps professionals within health deliver support which is culturally sensitive. It is certainly an idea which is critical for mental health counselors to take on board and can offer the best help to underserved populations.
But how do counselors work in a culturally competent manner? In simple terms, it involves treating each client as an individual and engaging them in a way which suits their own culture. It also means thinking about their cultural beliefs when talking to them, assessing the best course of action to take based on this, and drawing up a suitable treatment plan. Being culturally competent also means counselors should take cultural factors into account when thinking about what may lie behind a client’s mental health issues.
Working in this way not only enables clinical mental health counselors to offer tailored support to each client but also helps them connect with people from underserved populations in a more authentic way. This can help people from these communities feel more comfortable coming to mental health counselors for help and more open to accessing a system which is more representative of their background.
Sliding fee scales and pro bono services
We have already talked about the financial barriers which can exist for some underserved populations when it comes to getting help with mental health problems. An average African American household’s median savings in the USA, for example, is thought to be around the $24,000 mark – while the median savings figure for an average white household is around $189,000.
This type of financial disparity can be a real issue when it comes to paying for help with mental health problems for underserved communities or taking out insurance plans which would cover it. Mental health professionals could remove this barrier by offering sliding fee scales. This would enable them to charge people from underserved communities less for their services and enable them to get the help they require. This would eliminate the problems that low incomes in underserved populations create for mental health support and ensure people from these communities are not left out in the cold.
To offer even more help with the same end result, mental health counselors could offer their services for free on a pro bono basis to certain underserved communities. By doing this, professionals in this sector would remove the barrier of money for marginalized populations and enable them to access the support they need. It would also show these communities that they are not forgotten about and that people from within the industry are trying their best to help.
Outreach and community engagement
It is understandable that some communities who are underserved across society eventually choose to disengage with the help they need or may be able to get. This can seem easier than being continually ignored or having to jump through hoops in order to get only a fraction of the support others get.
This is a disaster in mental health terms, though, as it means people are not getting much-needed treatment for their problems and are not able to work through them effectively. This can mean that mental health disorders are left unchecked to wreak havoc.
One way for clinical mental health counselors to give effective support to communities like this is by reaching out to them. By making the effort to engage with these sections of society first, counselors are making it simpler for people within them to respond and are also showing them they are cared for. This makes it more likely they will seek the help they are entitled to and get support for any issues with mental health they are experiencing.
Being active in underserved communities also enables mental health counselors and organizations to build a rapport with people from them and become part of that community. This is vital for building the trust needed for people from these populations to go to mental health practitioners for help.
Engaging in community outreach also enables counselors to let people know about the help which is out there to access and how best to go about it. It is also useful for helping mental health professionals find out more about how mental health issues are viewed in certain populations and what current mental health problems may be most common there.
Offering support for vulnerable populations
Any counselor in mental health who plans to provide the best help to underserved populations should certainly focus on offering support to them. This enables counselors to take on clients from vulnerable populations and give them the assistance they need to tackle their problems. Offering this kind of support often goes hand in hand with community outreach and enables counselors to ensure they are helping communities who might otherwise be forgotten about.
Advocacy and systemic change
Working at ground level with vulnerable populations is worthwhile, but real change can only be made at a systemic level. This means that working to drive systemic change is something clinical mental health counselors can do to help underserved populations. By doing this, they can help to make the system a fairer place – one that allows everyone to gain equal access to mental health services
This can seem like a very big ambition, though, and can leave professionals in the industry unsure of how to go about it. One of the best ways to start is by getting involved with advocacy work for communities who are marginalized in this field. This means that counselors can work with and for communities on specific campaigns or projects. The aim is to raise awareness of the inequalities the community experiences in terms of mental health support and strive to drive real change at the highest level.
In addition to advocacy work on specific projects, clinical mental health counselors can also engage in advocating for better mental health care for certain communities in general. This may mean that they speak with local politicians to change how mental health services are delivered in the state or campaign for better mental health support for certain populations at a national level.
Advocacy work like this can also include highlighting the issues some communities face in terms of mental health support via social media to create a buzz or raise the issue with colleagues in the sector. However it looks, the main aim is to bring attention to the inequalities which exist and help to eliminate them moving ahead.
Clinical mental health counseling and marginalized communities
Any professional in this field enters it to help people overcome their mental health issues and lead a better life. This goal is not set with specific communities or cultures in mind – yet despite this, certain populations seen as underserved often struggle to access the best mental health treatment. With this in mind, it is essential for counselors in this field to do what they can to give effective support to vulnerable communities. This is not only the ethical thing to do but provides a real sense of satisfaction when you make life better for people in vulnerable communities.