Health disparities are a serious problem for members of minority communities in the United States. Disparities do not only lead to negative influences and inequities in the outcomes from serious physical health problems (such as cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and diabetes) for members of minority communities, but also lead to significant problems with outcomes from serious mental health conditions (including stress-related, manic-depressive, and psychotic disorders, as well as suicidal tendencies) for ethnic and racial minority group members in the US. While current epidemiological evidence suggests that the actual rates of incidence of mental health problems is not significantly different across different racial and ethnic groups in the US, research shows that many minority groups, especially African Americans and Latino Americans, seek and receive treatments for mental health problems at a much lower rate than the general population, resulting in many unmet needs for mental health care and poorer mental health outcomes. This article examines the role of communication in leading to serious mental health disparities for members of minority groups in the US, as well as how communication research and intervention can help reduce these serious disparities.

Key Take Away Points

Readers will learn about the existence of mental health disparities for members of minority groups in the US.

Readers will learn how stigma leads to problems with communication about mental health issues, especially in minority communities in the US.

Readers will learn about the role that popular media has played in promoting stigma about mental health issues.

Readers will learn about different intervention strategies and research programs designed to address the communication problems and stigma that lead to mental health disparities for members of minority communities in the US.

Author Biography

Gary L. Kreps (Ph.D., U of Southern California, 1979) is a University Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University (in the Washington, DC metro area). He studies health and risk communication, with a major focus on reducing health inequities. He publishes widely (more than 400 articles, books, and chapters) and has been funded by many federal agencies, foundations, health systems, foreign governments, and corporations. He served as the founding Chief of the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NIH), where he planned national research programs to promote cancer prevention and control. He also served as the founding Dean of the School of Communication at Hofstra University, Executive Director of the Greenspun School of Communication at UNLV, and a professor at Northern Illinois, Rutgers, Indiana, and Purdue Universities. He has received many honors for his work including the 2015 Research Laureate Award from the American Academy for Health Behavior.


My thanks to Dr. Lovell Jones who invited me to speak about mental health disparities, stigma, and communication at the National Health Disparities in America Workshop that encouraged me to work on this important topic.