Everyone in this world has a story. With diverse backgrounds and different privileges, we all have an abundance of factors that influence our well-being for better or for worse, and in both physical and mental wellness spaces, it’s important to keep these things in mind. One of those factors is the environment that we live in. So, how exactly does the environment play a role in inclusive mental health, and how can we bridge the gap for those disproportionately affected by environmental impacts?
First, let’s talk about inclusivity and discuss what it means for mental health. The definition of inclusivity is “The practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or intellectual disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.”
Inclusivity in mental health means acknowledging disparities candidly. It’s critical that we identify the ways people are often excluded, marginalized, or misunderstood and address mental health with these things in mind.
Inclusive Mental Health and the Environment
If the question is, “how do inclusive mental health and the environment go together?” the answer is relatively apparent. People of lower socioeconomic status (SES) not only face a higher risk of some physical and mental health conditions, but they also may face barriers to both physical and mental health care. Cost and the area a person lives in are two things that may affect a person’s ability to get care.
Consequently, lower income areas are often the same as those with a higher level of pollution, and many of the things that can affect a person’s income – like unemployment – disproportionately affect various marginalized groups. Then, there’s the fact that pollution itself can impact mental and physical health, which may explain part of the link between lower SES and health detriments in addition to factors like the stress of marginalization and poverty.
Increasing Inclusivity in Mental Health Care
Now that we’ve taken a moment to define inclusivity, what inclusivity means in mental health, and the ways that some people have disproportionate access to care despite higher levels of risk, let’s talk about how to expand inclusivity within the mental healthcare field. Here are some things we can do:
1. Support low-cost and free services
One useful step to take in our own communities is to support the funding and accessibility of low-cost and/or free mental health services. If you want to get involved, volunteering for hotlines and other resources and backing or voting in favor of initiatives meant to increase access to care are two ways an individual may be able to help. If you are in need of care yourself, local information hotlines, social workers, and primary care physicians may have information about or referrals to low-cost or free services near you.
2. Increase understanding
Raising awareness around mental health and disparities among marginalized or low-income groups and other similar topics is an important part of inclusive mental health. To raise awareness, we can bring the research we have to the public, both broadly and in our immediate local areas, and use it to promote understanding of the need we have for inclusive, accessible mental health care. When more people understand the need, they may be both more empathetic and more likely to get involved.
3. Promote online or remote therapy options
Online therapy options are helpful for increasing access to care in a number of ways. First, you do not have to drive to get to your therapist or counselor if you see a therapist in a fully remote setting. This is helpful both for those who aren’t able to drive to appointments and for those who live far away from a provider who meets their mental health needs.
Second, many websites have a diverse selection of occupational health providers who have different backgrounds and specialties. This means that you are more likely not only to find care but the right kind of care, if applicable.
4. Increase research and access to help in underserved areas
Some areas have very few options for mental health care at all, let alone affordable, affirming, or inclusive mental health care. Additionally, some populations and areas in the world are under-researched. Increasing the amount of research we have, especially with potential biases in mind, can help give us more information on how to help people in our communities.
It is important to fund both research and quality care in these areas, just as it is vital to promote environmental maintenance and justice for our communities.