Texas is already short on mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, psychologists, licensed counselors, nurses and social workers. But another issue compounds the problem: a disparity in diagnosing and treating the state's rapidly growing minority communities.
Among the state's current cadre of licensed psychiatrists, cultural and ethnic diversity are lacking. As of 2009, 64 percent of all psychiatrists were white, 3.5 percent were African-American, and 12.4 percent were Hispanic, according to statistics in the latest Texas State Health Plan for 2011-2016.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, in a 2010 report, found that people of color experience worse access than whites to both health care and mental health treatment. And even when patients do seek treatment, they are often unable to find providers who are sensitive to their cultural and language differences.
Staff at the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at the University of Texas at Austin argue that "without cultural competency in treatment, recovery and wellness can remain unreachable for many people with mental illness." The problem is apparent in Hispanic communities along the border, where residents juggle two languages and cultures. It's also prevalent in urban areas like Houston and Dallas, where there are significant Asian immigrant and black populations.
In recent years, the state has done little to increase funding for psychiatric training programs. And if Texas continues to ignore the lack of cultural understanding among mental health providers — especially as the state's minority populations continue growing — experts warn the consequences will include higher crime rates and increased health costs.