A Black therapist holds a virtual therapy session for BIPOC youth

Virtual Care Supports BIPOC Mental Health

6 min.

Charlie Health reviews how virtual intensive outpatient programming (IOP) is an accessible option for BIPOC communities.

By: Alex Bachert, MPH

February 2, 2023


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Did you know that the majority of mental health professionals are white? 

According to data published by the American Psychological Association in 2015, a whopping 86 percent of psychologists were white, while the remaining 14 percent was distributed nearly equally among Asian, Hispanic, and Black psychologists. A recent study suggested similar trends for psychiatrists, with fewer residents and practicing physicians represented in minority groups.

Now consider the fact that approximately 40% of the U.S population are people of color

Starting mental health treatment can be hard—and that’s without having to worry if your mental health provider will understand your culture and community. For those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color, collectively known as BIPOC, the lack of provider representation is just one of several barriers to care. Factor in access issues, social stigma, and a lack of health insurance and health literacy—it’s no wonder that many BIPOC communities are less likely to seek or continue treatment.

That’s where virtual intensive outpatient programming, or IOP, can help. Virtual IOP is a type of behavioral health treatment that uses individual therapy, family therapy, and structured groups to help people manage their mental health issues from the comfort of their home. Below, we review some of the leading barriers to care for BIPOC communities and how virtual IOP can help individuals overcome these challenges to better manage their mental health.

What does BIPOC stand for?

BIPOC is an acronym that originated in the early to mid-2010s as a way to refer to individuals who are not white. The term is used to “highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have,” according to the BIPOC Project, an organization that’s dedicated to advancing racial justice.

“The choice to use ‘BIPOC’ reflects the desire to illuminate specific injustices affecting Black and Indigenous people,” explains Dr. Chelsi Clark, Ph.D., NCSP, LPC Director of BIPOC Programming at Charlie Health. “BIPOC is person-first language. It enables a shift away from terms like ‘marginalized’ and ‘minority.’ These terms might remain factually correct, but they lack a sense of humanity, since there’s no clear indication they refer to people.”

Mental health in BIPOC communities 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness yet most mental illnesses go untreated. This is especially true in communities of color, where only 37.1 percent of Blacks and 35 percent of Hispanics with any mental illness received services compared with 52 percent of Whites, according to 2020 data.

Different communities exhibit different behavior patterns, but generally speaking, members of BIPOC communities are less likely to: 

  • Have access to mental health services
  • Seek medical treatment or care
  • Complete their recommended treatment

That said, one of the reasons the term BIPOC was created was to avoid categorizing all minorities as one—a distinction that merits further exploration when it comes to mental health.

For example, Indigenous people in the U.S. start to use and abuse substances—a risky behavior that we know has been linked to mental illnesses like depression—more frequently and at younger ages than all other ethnic groups. We also know that the suicide rate for Indigenous teens (ages 15-19 years) is more than double that of non-Hispanic whites. Similarly, Black and African American teens are more likely to attempt suicide than white teens.

Barriers to care in BIPOC communities 

According to Clark, BIPOC communities face various barriers to care which stem from deeply rooted issues in the U.S.:

“Despite the obvious need for mental health care and support, systematic racism and discrimination have caused a lack of access to care and treatment throughout BIPOC communities. For example, poverty and unemployment are often a direct result of racial bias and discrimination and in turn lead to several challenges including lack of health insurance, limited availability of providers, lack of transportation to therapy appointments, and the full spectrum of mental illnesses that result from living in poverty.” 

Virtual IOP for BIPOC

The goal of virtual intensive outpatient programming is to provide people with the care and support they need to manage their mental health issues, while still allowing them to maintain their daily routines. By accessing care from home, individuals can enjoy the flexibility and privacy that in-person therapy might not offer. For example, there’s no need to worry about transportation when your therapist is right there on your computer screen. 

In addition to being convenient, virtual IOP is effective. Research led by Dr. Caroline Fenkel DSW, LCSW, Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer at Charlie Health, and Dr. Kate Gliske, Director of Research & Clinical Outcomes, found that virtual IOP actually improves access and outcomes for teens and young adults in crisis. More specifically, it can reduce depressive symptoms, improve therapy attendance rates, and reduce self-harm behaviors.

You might be thinking that this sounds like a promising resource for teens and young adults, but what exactly does it mean for BIPOC teens and young adults?

Virtual IOP allows you to receive treatment from providers who understand you.

One of the leading barriers to pediatric psychiatric care in this country is the lack of therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Although this shortage affects teens from New York to California and every in between, the problem is even more dire in BIPOC communities. 

Virtual treatment programs allow people to look beyond their zip code to find a provider who understands their specific needs. For example, therapists of color have a more innate understanding of issues like racial socialization, which makes them better suited to help BIPOC youth work through stress and trauma. Teens might also feel less concerned about being judged or misunderstood when their mental health professional resembles them. 

Virtual IOP enables you to share your experience with others in the BIPOC community.

A key component of IOP is group therapy. By connecting young people who share similar mental health challenges and backgrounds, IOP creates a platform to share experiences, build meaningful relationships, and pursue long-term healing. Having this type of support can be instrumental to healing, especially in communities that still stigmatize mental health and often view mental health disorders as a sign of personal weakness.

Virtual IOP creates healthier futures. 

An undiagnosed mental illness can have serious and lasting consequences. School, relationships, jobs, and personal hygiene may all take a backseat when a person is struggling to manage their mental wellbeing. What’s more, we know that trauma, such as violence, bullying, and intimate partner violence, have been linked to higher suicide rates—the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34 years. By enabling a person to connect with care at the times they need it and from a safe location, they’re taking the first step toward creating a more balanced future. 

Get help today

If you or someone you know is looking to connect with a mental health professional who understands your culture or community, Charlie Health is here to help. Founded in 2020, Charlie Health is the largest virtual mental health clinic for teens and young adults who are struggling with serious mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. 

Whether you’re exploring treatment options for the first time or seeking extra support, Charlie Health’s Intensive Outpatient Programming (IOP) provides individualized and evidence-based mental health care in a safe, supportive space.

Learn more today.

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