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Supporting Underserved Communities With Group Therapy

Supporting Underserved Communities With Group Therapy

The level of disparity between underserved communities and socially advantaged communities in most areas of life is a harsh reality. From gender and race discrimination to poverty, disparities play a major role in health, well-being, and quality of life. One of the areas where underserved communities experience more risk factors and barriers is substance misuse and other mental health disorders. 

As noted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a growing disparity in drug overdose between different population groups. Some of the staggering differences in overdose statistics include:

  • 44% increase in overdose for Black people
  • 39% increase in overdose for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people
  • Black people are two or more times more likely to die from an overdose in U.S. counties with more income inequality
  • Young AI/AN women are nearly twice as likely to die from an overdose than young White women

Many of the devastating outcomes of substance use disorder (SUD) for underserved communities have roots in access to care. Underserved communities like people of color are less likely to seek out or receive SUD treatment compared to their White counterparts. Furthermore, disparities in discrimination, economic status, environment, and other systemic disadvantages can also be seen in mental health challenges. 

According to BJPsych Bulletin, your mental health is shaped by the social, environmental, and economic conditions in which you are born, work, and live. Disadvantages like economic disparity and poverty contribute to poor mental health outcomes as distress erodes resilience. The variety of risk factors and harm associated with poor access to instrumental and affiliation support resources. 

At New Creation Recovery, we recognize that many social pressures and taboos contribute to difficulties in addressing addiction and mental health disorders. The challenges of stigma can leave you feeling anxious, fearful, depressed, and ashamed about your position in society. Therefore, we are committed to providing an individualized treatment plan to address your specific needs for healing. Here at New Creation Recovery, we know a holistic approach to care offers an opportunity for whole-person care. With whole-person care, you can find support as a member of a marginalized and underserved community. Thus, at New Creation Recovery, you can find gender-specific care in a women’s only rehabilitation center near me.

When your whole life has been immersed in systemic systems, it can be difficult to recognize the full extent of its impact. The challenges underserved communities experience often have far-reaching and often deadly consequences that ripple across generations. Therefore, the shattered remains of countless lives, families, and communities are at the heart of the need for change. Although the challenges underserved communities face cannot be dismantled overnight, knowledge can be a powerful step toward progress. Increasing your knowledge and understanding of underserved communities is the first step toward self-advocacy, expanded access to resources, and lasting recovery.

What Are Underserved Communities?

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), underserved communities or populations are groups that have limited or no access to resources or are disenfranchised. You can be a member of one or more underserved communities as disparities often overlap and impede each other. As noted by FEMA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the characteristics of vulnerable and underserved communities can include:

  • Socioeconomically disadvantaged
    • Lower levels of education
      • Less informed about available choices
      • Lower awareness of available services
    • Low income
      • Reduced options for healthcare services
      • Fewer opportunities to engage in healthy behaviors 
    • Limited or no access to transportation
  • Educationally disenfranchised
  • Geographical isolation
    • This can include rural, tribal, and other geographic barriers
      • Barriers to healthcare services
      • Limited access to basic resources
      • Lack of reliable transportation
  • Individuals with limited English proficiency
  • People of color (POC) 
  • Other ethnic and national origin minorities
  • Women
  • Individuals with disabilities
    • Physical 
    • Developmental 
    • Intellectual 
    • Chronic disorders or injuries
  • Displaying fear and distrust in accessing government programs
  • Expressing fear and distrust in disclosing sensitive information
  • Receiving fewer healthcare service options
  • Lack of healthcare providers

Looking at the characteristics of vulnerable and underserved communities highlights the intersectional nature of stigma and discrimination. Thus, multiple stigmatized identities like ethnicity, gender, sexuality, poverty, and disabilities converge on each other. Listed below are some of the groups that are identified as vulnerable and underserved communities:

  • Latinx populations
  • African American or Black populations
  • AI/AN populations
  • Immigrants
  • Refugees
  • Young adults
  • Women
  • New mothers
  • People with children
  • Individuals with disabilities

The intersectional nature of stigma can magnify the impact these disparities have on every area of your life. While there are countless stigmas to address, a few often stand out. There are a few intersectional stigmas that have a significant impact on SUD, mental health disorders, access to treatment, and treatment retention. Being a woman, POC, and economic inequality all encounter challenges and barriers to care that impede lasting recovery.

Barriers to Care: Treating Women With SUD and Mental Health Disorders

As noted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 41.0 million (31.5%) of adult women in the U.S. have SUD and or a mental health disorder. However, as Melissa Krug notes in “Women Less Likely to Seek Substance Use Treatment Due to Stigma,” in 2019 fewer than 11% of women sought treatment for SUD. The low percentage of women seeking support is tied to a variety of barriers. 

Many of the barriers to care women face as one of many underserved communities are often closely associated with gender discrimination, inequality, and stigma among others. As noted in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, gender disparities in SUD treatment are significant even without considering the intersection of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. Some of the barriers to care underserved communities like women face include:

  • Gender barriers
    • Increased stigma for substance use
      • Public stigma
        • SUD conflicts with societal gender norms and expectations
          • Negative image of sexuality and fitness as mothers
        • Concerned about potential job loss
      • Self-stigma
        • Fear of being identified or labeled if seen using treatment services
        • Concern about what neighbors, friends, and family will think 
    • Higher prevalence of co-occurring mental health disorders
    • Lower perceived need for treatment
    • Logistical barriers
      • Limited or no childcare options
      • Lack of transportation
      • No time to seek treatment due to work and other obligations
    • Women receive less pressure or support from family and friends to seek treatment
    • Less likely to be reported for SUD-related behavioral problems
    • Fear of social consequences leads women to hide their substance use more than men
  • Economic disparities
    • Lack of healthcare coverage
    • Cost of treatment
    • Great distance between home and treatment center
    • Poor access to other healthcare resources
      • Reliable contraception 
      • Pre-natal health services
    • Housing instability
    • Lack of employment
    • Lower education level
  • Race and ethnicity
    • Latina and Black women
      • Intersecting gender and race stigma
        • Fear of being judged or shunned by family
          • Black women are more likely to hide their substance use from family due to fear of judgment
          • In Black underserved communities, substance use is associated with deviant and criminalized behaviors 
      • For Latinx underserved communities, addiction is perceived as a male disease
      • More pronounced logistical barriers
        • Lack of healthcare coverage
        • Little to no time to attend treatment
        • Limited or no knowledge of where to seek support
      • Latina women are more likely to perceive treatment as unnecessary
        • Certain that they have it under control because they can maintain other work and family responsibilities
      • Women of color have less confidence in the effectiveness of specialized SUD treatment
        • Concern that treatment providers have never experienced SUD
          • Unable to understand experiences
        • Concerns about cultural factors
          • Perceiving treatment providers as lacking in knowledge of cultural backgrounds
            • For Latina women drinking alcohol is a part of the culture
          • Feeling disconnected from a treatment system in which the majority of providers are White
            • The belief that they are unable to relate to White providers
          • Lack of treatment programs that consider cultural beliefs, customs, and social contexts
            • Family dynamics
            • Traditional gender roles
            • Immigration experiences
            • Religion 
      • Lack of perceived support from family
        • Latina women believe they will not be supported by their family

Looking at some of the intersectional barriers women face as members of underserved communities highlights the impact of gender roles and parenting on seeking treatment. Women are often expected to take on the majority if not all caregiving responsibilities for children, partners, and other family members. Thus, stigma around substance use, motherhood, and womanhood can lead to fear and avoidance behaviors. 

The prevalence of treatment avoidance behaviors can be pronounced for pregnant women. As noted in “Barriers to Women’s Disclosure of and Treatment for Substance Use During Pregnancy” by Helen Tosin Oni et al., pregnancy has often been a teachable moment and a motivating factor for women to seek SUD treatment. However, pregnant women still face a range of barriers to accessing treatment services. 

Many of the barriers pregnant women encounter for treatment stem from gender stigma:

  • Perceptions that they are unfit, uncaring, and unworthy of support
  • Fear that they will lose custody of their children

Thus, the intersecting nature of gender, race, and socioeconomic for underserved communities further showcases the need for understanding disparities. 

Addiction and Mental Health Challenges for People of Color

Challenges with SUD and mental health disorders are common across all races and ethnicities. However, the complexities of a variety of intersecting inequalities lead to barriers to care for underserved communities of color. As the HHS states, POC have more unmet needs and experience worse health outcomes compared to non-Hispanic White people. Despite a high prevalence of SUD among White people compared to POC like Asian and Pacific Islander populations, disparities in access to care persist. The barriers to effective SUD treatment for POC are based on the intersections of structural racism and poverty. Some of the barriers to SUD care for racial and ethnic underserved communities include: 

  • Inequitable design for substance use policies and treatment resources 
  • Disproportionate criminalization of substance use for communities of color
  • Treatment systems and related human services programs are not equipped to address the specific health and social needs of POC
  • Unmet economic needs
    • Unaffordable treatment
    • Lack of affordable housing
    • Limited or no public transportation
    • Lack of economic opportunities
  • Difficulty accessing funding to address the unique needs of underserved communities
  • Discrimination
  • Stigma
  • Limited availability for treatment options
  • Unmet social needs

In addition to SUD, as Health Affairs notes, racial and ethnic underserved communities have less access to mental health services. Some of the mental health barriers communities of color experience include:

  • Racism and discrimination
  • Different cultural perceptions of mental health disorders
  • Lack of healthcare insurance
  • Different cultural perspectives on seeking treatment
  • Fear and mistrust of healthcare professionals
  • Language and other communication barriers
  • Less likely to receive needed care
  • More likely to receive poor-quality care

Looking at the multitude of barriers to care underserved communities experience highlights the tendency for disparities to inform each other. For instance, racism is often deeply intertwined with limited or denial of economic resources for POC. Thus, addressing individual disparities like financial instability can offer insight into how inequality harms well-being and impedes every part of life for underserved communities.

Addressing Financial Barriers to Treatment for Underserved Communities

Underserved communities like women and POC are disproportionately impacted by economic inequality. Poverty can take an immense toll on your short and long-term well-being. As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) notes, 8.7% of people living below the poverty line experience severe psychological distress. Insecurity and uncertainty about food, housing, and income put a significant strain on your physical and psychological health. Moreover, profound distress can erode important factors like hope, which increases the risk for unhealthy coping strategies like substance use. The strain of poverty is compounded by barriers to seeking and receiving treatment for SUD and other mental health disorders. 

Listed below are some of the financial barriers to treatment for underserved communities:

  • No health insurance
  • Lack of reliable transportation for geographically isolated communities
    • Rural 
    • Urban
  • The need to work long hours
    • Impede ability to make and maintain appointment
    • Unable to commit to residential and or outpatient treatment
  • Experiencing stigma from mental health and poverty
  • Racial and ethnic disparities
    • Black and Latinx communities are less likely to utilize mental health and SUD services
    • Lack of community-based interventions
    • Limited or no resources to fund health services
    • Unequal access to evidence-based practices
    • More likely to receive less-than-optimal care
      • Less likely to initiate mental health service use 
      • More likely to drop out of treatment
      • Increased utilization of SUD treatment and psychiatric emergency services via law enforcement
      • More likely to be involuntarily hospitalized
      • Less likely to receive regular outpatient care 

The intersection of disparities in treatment services for underserved communities can feel understandably overwhelming. However, culturally informed therapeutic modalities like group therapy can be beneficial for supporting recovery in underserved communities.

The Benefits of Group Therapy for Underserved Communities

According to the Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment, several processes contribute to the effectiveness of group therapies. For instance, group cohesion – which leads to feeling a sense of belonging to a group – is an important factor for healing. Through group cohesion, opportunities for connection and support increase for the members of the group. Listed below are some of the ways group cohesion in group therapy is beneficial to underserved communities:

  • Women
    • Group cohesion is higher in women-only groups and groups with more women compared to male-only groups
    • Women-only groups have higher attendance rates and positive health outcomes
  • Race and ethnicity
    • Utilizing mindfulness in group therapy can support addressing the impact of race
      • Helps regulate emotions 
      • Increases capacity to approach rather than withdraw from uncomfortable topics
      • Mindfulness strategies help group members stay engaged in learning about racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity

Group therapy is one of many holistic therapeutic modalities that can support closing the gaps in disparities for underserved communities.

Overcoming Barriers: Healing Underserved Communities at New Creation Recovery

Recovery for underserved communities does not start with treatment alone. Rather, the opportunity for recovery becomes possible when individuals, communities, and organizations recognize the impact of inequality on well-being. Group therapy is a reflection of the knowledge, community, understanding, growth, and healing that can be born out of connection and communication. As Delton Russell notes in “Overcoming Barriers to Recovery,” shared experiences are an incredible tool for empathy and cohesion for recovery. Through an open dialogue in group therapy, members can help each other find their paths to recovery.

Thus, at New Creation Recovery, we are committed to providing gender-specific care and peer support at our rehab to address your unique needs. Through our holistic approach to care, we can support the needs of underserved communities like women. If you’re looking for group therapy near me, our whole-person care gives you the space to address addiction and mental health disorders where we acknowledge the individual and systemic roots of your challenges. Further, as a Christian based drug rehab for women, community is at the core of our work. With support, you and other women in our treatment program can be a source of experience, strength, and hope for each other.

Numerous disparities contribute to treatment challenges for underserved communities. Many underserved communities like women, people of color, and individuals in poverty experience inequalities that increase the risk of substance use disorder and mental health disorders in those communities. Moreover, inequalities for underserved communities often intersect and contribute to disparities in access to SUD and mental health treatment services and resources. However, group therapy is one of many therapeutic modalities that can be utilized to address treatment disparities and support lasting recovery for underserved communities. Through modalities like group therapy, you can engage with peers to foster cohesion, empathy, and understanding of each other’s experiences to learn and heal together. To learn more, call New Creation Recovery at (877) 868-5730.