AMONG WOMEN IN CALIFORNIA who have recently experienced mild to moderate psychological distress and are eligible for public health services, four-out-of-five said they received no treatment, a report published by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research showed.
Those who qualify for these public services — a third of all women over the age of 18 — also were more likely than their privately insured counterparts to have experienced moderate or serious psychological distress (31% vs. 21%), according to an analysis of data from the center’s California Health Interview Survey from 2018 and 2019.
The findings, the researchers say, point to an urgent need to address the mental health needs of these women — particularly women of color, who reported the highest levels of unmet needs. If untreated, mild-to-moderate psychological distress has the potential to become progressively more severe and disabling. “A public-health focused approach is vital because it may prevent more severe impacts on individuals’ lives,” says D. Imelda Padilla-Frausto, PhD, a research scientist at the center. Researchers found that women who were eligible for Medi-Cal or other public-care programs had high degrees of unmet mental health needs across all levels of psychological distress. Roughly 90% of those with mild distress, 70% with moderate distress and 50% with serious distress reported that they hadn’t accessed professional care within the previous 12 months.
The researchers also sought to identify how socioeconomic factors may influence whether women are eligible for public insurance, and how these factors may present barriers to accessing needed mental health care. They found that women of color were two-to-four times as likely as white women to be eligible for public health coverage, and that those without a high school education were more than four times as likely as those with a graduate degree to be eligible. Of single women with children, 68% were eligible. Compared with 28% of U.S.-born citizens, 54% of noncitizen women with a green card were eligible.
The authors also discovered that many of the same social and economic determinants appeared to influence whether those experiencing distress had accessed treatment or support services.
Among women experiencing serious distress who have unmet needs, 66% were Asian, 55% were Latina, 52% were Black and 42% were white. Asian women experiencing mild psychological distress also had the highest overall percentage of unmet needs (95%). Noncitizen
women without a green card were more likely to report unmet needs for mild and serious psychological distress than women who were born in the U.S., with a particularly large difference for serious distress (75% vs. 52%). This information can aid in developing tailored approaches for specific populations, Dr. Padilla-Fraus to says. The researcher s recommended the implementation of national standards for culturally and linguistically appropriate health services, large-scale promotion of mental health literacy and outreach, supporting policies that reduce inequities in care for women and expanding screening services into settings such as “ faith-based organizations, beauty salons, grocery stores, libraries and community resource centers,” she says.
“Missed Opportunities: Up to 9 in 10 Women Eligible for Public Health Services in California Have Unmet Mental Health Need,” UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, October 20, 2021