Let’s talk a little bit about health equity and my experiences related to health equity. First of all, what is health equity? In a report designed to increase consensus around meaning of health equity, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provides the following definition: “Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”
I use my past experiences and training every single day in my psychiatry residency to advance health equity and improve health outcomes. I want to share a very sobering factoid first. According to the HHS Office of Minority Health, Black adults in the U.S. are more likely to report symptoms of mental illness given the traumatic stressors (direct and indirect) they experience; however, only one in three Black adults who need mental health care receive it. I remember seeing a young Black female on the inpatient psychiatric unit after an intentional overdose. I assigned myself to her as she refused to speak to anyone stating negative assumptions would be made about her and that no one would be able to understand her. I spent time getting to know my patient—her hobbies, her priorities, her life goals. Then we began discussing stressors and lived experiences. She stated she felt her life did not matter as she was just another statistic, and mental health was not a priority in her community. Even though she needed and wanted help, she did not feel comfortable seeking it. By recognizing that this patient has had unique lived experiences, I began chipping away at the stigma that permeates through culture. This allowed me to realize that I should always look for ways and opportunities to continue understanding how to educate myself and those around me to reduce implicit bias and negative assumptions—something I believe we should all do.
What are some of your experiences related to health equity?
Thoughts from a psychiatry resident physician,