min read
June 18, 2024

Bridging the gap: Mental health equity in the digital age

How digital care can help close the care gap in marginalized communities.

George Floyd's murder, the Atlanta spa shooting, the Pulse nightclub attack — these heart-wrenching stories flash across our screens, only to be quickly replaced by the next headline. But for marginalized communities, the mental scars of hate crimes linger long after the news cycle moves on. Following George Floyd's death, for example, depression and anxiety among Black Americans rose to 41.69% compared to 37.97% for white Americans based on a 2020-2021 survey.

And while marginalized communities tend to be more heavily affected by mental health challenges, they’re also less likely to receive mental healthcare. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found that among adults reporting moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, depression, or both, mental health treatment rates were lowest among young adults, Black adults, men, and uninsured people. In short, mental health is not equitable

Let's examine the barriers to mental health equity and explore solutions to ensure care reaches those most in need.

The mental health crisis in marginalized communities

Hate crimes and collective trauma inflict undeniable harm on communities, but these are far from the only factors impacting well-being. Many marginalized groups also face persistent socioeconomic challenges that contribute to their mental health struggles.

For one, financial hardship is a stark reality for many, and these struggles often go hand-in-hand with mental illness. Plus, the ongoing experience of discrimination and systemic racism can add race-related stressors, linked to an increased risk of mental health conditions.

Limited access to care worsens the cycle, as mental health disparities disproportionately impact people of color, who often experience more severe and lasting mental illness due to less and lower-quality care.

How traditional systems fail marginalized groups

Mental healthcare remains out of reach for many members of marginalized communities. Money is often a major hurdle, as therapy and medication can be incredibly expensive — especially for those without insurance. 

Even with insurance, finding an in-network provider can be tough. Mental health professionals tend to practice in wealthier areas, leaving lower-income neighborhoods underserved. For those without reliable transportation, getting to appointments becomes a real struggle. These social and economic factors – collectively called social determinants of health – often overlap and create a snowball effect, making it incredibly difficult for marginalized communities to get the mental health support they need.

Cultural factors can also create barriers to access. While mental health stigma exists across all groups, research suggests that stigma may be more prevalent among certain racial and ethnic minorities who hold different cultural beliefs or understandings about mental illness compared to the dominant culture. 

Systemic biases within the mental healthcare system make these issues worse. Racial and ethnic disparities in care are well-documented: A CDC report found Black adults seeking emergency mental health care faced longer wait times and were less likely to be admitted than white adults.

Marginalized individuals also often face misdiagnosis, underdiagnosis, and inadequate treatment for mental health conditions. For example, Black and Hispanic individuals are less likely to receive depression treatment compared to white individuals. And a 2021 study found that medical professionals tend to associate psychotic disorders with Black individuals and perceive them as less compliant

It's no surprise that marginalized communities, often aware of or directly affected by negative healthcare experiences, may hesitate to seek help due to valid fears of discrimination and stigma. Those who do look for support are often unable to find culturally competent mental healthcare providers. A 2020 study revealed that only 10% of practicing psychiatrists in 2016 were Black, Latino, or Native American, a lack of representation that can translate to a lack of culturally informed treatment options.

One promising tool: Digital mental healthcare

There's no easy fix for the complex barriers preventing marginalized communities from accessing equitable mental healthcare. However, we can take meaningful steps forward and leverage tools to bridge the gap. One key way to start tackling these challenges is through digital care, which offers unique, new ways to approach many of the barriers that have been difficult to overcome through traditional methods.

Digital care breaks down traditional barriers by removing location demands and offering more affordable options. This is particularly helpful for those in underserved areas or on a tight budget. Anonymity and privacy may further reduce stigma, making it easier for individuals to seek help.

One of the greatest strengths of digital platforms is their potential to provide culturally competent care at scale, connecting individuals with therapists who understand their unique backgrounds and experiences. Furthermore, digital platforms offer a variety of support options, from self-guided tools to virtual therapy, allowing individuals to choose the level of care that best suits their needs.


Of course, digital care can’t offer an instant fix for all the equity challenges we face. For one, not all digital care tools are created equal. To be effective, these tools must be clinically evaluated, offering evidence-based interventions rather than just a feel-good or cheap substitute for traditional therapy. In some populations, socioeconomic barriers like lack of internet access, digital literacy, and language barriers can limit the reach of digital care. And most digital tools are not equipped to handle acute mental health crises or emergencies. 

Still, digital care can make a significant difference. At Big Health, we’re committed to making mental healthcare more equitable through our proven digital care programs. By breaking down barriers like cost, stigma, and geography, we tailor solutions to meet the unique needs of diverse workforces. Our data-driven approach demonstrates the tangible impact of our programs on both health outcomes and cost savings.

For equitable mental health care that meets the needs of your workforce, schedule a demo today to see how Big Health can empower your employees’ well-being.

DOC-3626 Effective June 2024

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