1: Addressing Mental Health Disparities Among Communities of Color Through Affordable Internet Access
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the existing disparities in mental health care access, particularly among communities of color. As telehealth services become increasingly prevalent, providing up to 60% of mental health care, these disparities are only further accentuated. Unfortunately, only 68-70% of communities of color have access to reliable and affordable internet services, putting crucial mental health care out of reach for too many.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a higher prevalence of serious considerations of suicide and adverse mental or behavioral health symptoms among Black, non-Hispanic individuals compared to other groups. This is especially concerning given the already existing access gaps to treatment, with 15% of Black, non-Hispanic respondents seriously thinking about suicide in the past 30 days, compared to 8% of White individuals and 10.7% of all other respondents.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a federal benefit that provides individuals with connectable devices and up to $30/month for their internet bill. Despite the program’s potential to bridge the digital divide, only 25% of the 51.6 million eligible households have enrolled. Medicaid patients are automatically eligible for the ACP, yet over 86% remain unenrolled.
This is where organizations like Link Health come in. By leveraging the health sector, Link Health connects low-income patients, many of whom are marginalized and more likely to be people of color, to the ACP. By addressing the underlying barriers to telehealth, such as lack of affordable internet access, Link Health is working to improve mental health outcomes for vulnerable communities.
Improving access to affordable internet through programs like the ACP is essential in addressing mental health disparities among communities of color. However, simply making the program available is not enough. Creative strategies, such as utilizing trusted health care workers and facilities to increase enrollment, are necessary to ensure that all eligible individuals have access to this crucial resource.
It is time for us to acknowledge that health and well-being are not solely within the purview of the health system. By improving access to affordable internet, we can make timely and crucial mental health services more accessible to communities of color and begin to address the inequities that exist within our healthcare system.