Black Veterans, Mental Health Care, and Racial Bias

Black Veterans, Mental Health Care, and Racial BiasA recent study revealing the presence of implicit racial bias in VA mental health care shows that Black patients can pick up on non-verbal cues from their doctors, leading them to experience disparities in quality of care. When patients perceive bias in health care, they may be less likely to seek necessary treatment, preventative medical care, or adhere to prescribed treatment plans – a recipe for disaster for people of color in the United States.

According to a study published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling, Black patients with mental health concerns fear judgements based on racial stereotypes when seeking care. We already know about implicit racial bias and health care. But this study aimed to go one step further and address how this bias truly affects Black patients.

About the research

Implicit racial bias can manifest in many forms. It does not necessarily mean an individual is racist or discriminatory, but it does mean an individual may be unconsciously acting in a discriminatory manner. No one is immune from implicit bias, but everyone must be aware of it and address it properly.

In the study, carried out by the Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center and Regenstrief Institute, 85 Black veterans were interviewed regarding their experiences accessing mental health care through VA hospitals. Researchers asked the veterans exploratory and non-directive questions about what they’ve encountered regarding race in health care. Two key findings emerged:

  • Lack of diversity. Patients noted the lack of other Black people or minorities in their health care settings, even down to the photographs on the walls. One 72-year-old participant mentioned about his health care center, “You go to the wall and start looking at all these pictures … You say I wonder if any African Americans are up here.”
  • Microaggressions. Many patients also felt doctors looked down on them, acted dismissively, or exhibited microaggressions. Another participant noted that when her clinician left the room for a moment, he instructed her not to touch his computer. “I was thinking that he should know me well enough now to know that I’m not the kind of person that will want to steal from you or that will want to try to mess with his computer in any way,” the patient recalled. “It reminded me that I was Black.”

If patients don’t feel safe in health care setting, they are less likely to seek the care they need.

"This study is one of the first to explore the actual perceptions of Black patients with mental health concerns and provides a new lens to help identify and address biases," said Johanne Eliacin, Ph.D., a research scientist with Regenstrief Institute and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. "Nuanced verbal and non-verbal cues—for example, a patient's perception that a physician is subtly talking down to him or her because of the patient's race or social class—can generate patient negativity resulting in damaging consequences.

Recognizing this implicit bias exists is the first step in developing a more person-centered approach to health care, and a more inclusive environment for Black patients. The injury attorneys at McGowan, Hood, Felder & Phillips, LLC are committed to helping patients injured to due to racial disparities in health care.

To schedule your free consultation with one of our South Carolina injury attorneys, call 803-327-7800, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page. Call us today for compassionate advocacy.