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Intersectionality & Mental Health: How Diverse Identities Impact Wellness

What is Intersectionality, and How Does It Impact Mental Health? 

"Intersectionality" is a term used to describe the lens through which we come to understand our experiences in the world, especially regarding our experiences with identity-based oppressions. From gender to race to ethnicity to age to ability and beyond, we all experience life differently. 

Kimberlé Crenshaw, American civil rights advocate, lawyer, and law professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, created this term in 1989 when reviewing a legal case. 

Emma DeGraffenreid, a Black woman, was denied employment and took the decision to court. DeGraffenreid’s case was dismissed because the employer was shown to hire Black men and white women. 

Crenshaw saw that the court did not acknowledge the multiple forms of oppression DeGraffenreid experienced due to her diverse identities as both a Black person and a woman.  In other words, her experience existed at the intersections of racial and gender oppression or discrimination. 

Green graphic with decorative triangles.  Text: "The road to inclusion is an intersection."

Minoritized groups and intersectionality 

We each have many different identities and belong to many different groups. From race to language to ability and beliefs, we each belong to multiple different groups, and our lives are impacted accordingly. 

For those in minoritized groups, this can mean increased levels of stress and challenges in daily life. Minoritization is a process of devaluing various individuals and communities that are deemed subordinate in certain ways (e.g., women are deemed less intelligent, capable, strong than men; trans folks are deemed less trustworthy, capable, stable than cis folks). More than being viewed and treated as less important, they are made subordinate and therefore expendable. 

When the dominant culture of your society does not prioritize, or acknowledge, your needs, you are forced to adapt, suffer, or likely both. For those belonging to multiple minoritized groups, this is damaging and even deadly. 

In 2018, Kimberlé Crenshaw spoke at a TedTalk Conference on “The Urgency of Intersectionality” 

Mental health statistics 

The following statistics are from Mental Health America: 

  • Percent of African Americans with Mental Illness: 17% [Source] 
  • Number of African Americans with Mental Illness: 6.8 million 
  • Percent of Latine/Hispanic Americans with Mental Illness: 15% [Source] 
  • Number of Latine/Hispanic Americans with Mental Illness: 8.9 million 
  • Percent of Asian Americans with Mental Illness: 13% [Source] 
  • Number of Asian Americans with Mental Illness: 2.2 million 
  • Percent of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives with Mental Illness: 23% [Source] 
  • Number of Native Americans/Alaskan Natives with Mental Illness: 830,000 


  • Percent of people who identify as being two or more races with mental illness: 25% [Source] 
  • People who identity as being two or more races are most likely to report any mental illness within the past year than any other race/ethnic group. 
  • Percent of Individuals who Identify as LGBTQIA+ with Mental Illness: 37% 
  • Number of Individuals who Identify as LGBTQIA+ with Mental Illness: 3.9 million [Source] 

*Please note that the website where this information was pulled from uses the term Latinx. As an organization we are choosing to use the term Latine. Learn more about our decision from our friends at OutBoulder. 

Minoritized groups and mental health 

Minoritized groups are under-resourced in the mental health industry. People from racial/ethnic minority groups are less likely to receive mental health care. (Pyschiatry.org) 

“On average, racial and ethnic minority populations report experiencing mental health problems at the same rate, and sometimes less frequently, than their white counterparts. Despite this, the consequences are often more severe and longer lasting.” (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) 

This health gap, in large part, is caused by biases that stem from systemic racism. Biases and racism create a barrier to care for minoritized communities and we can see these disproportionate effects generationally. 

Barriers to care are obstacles that make it challenging for individuals to receive help. Some barriers to care include: 

  • Cultural and language differences between providers and clients 
  • Insurance issues (such as lack of insurance or insufficient coverage)
  • Stigma and shame within communities 
Intersectionality and mental health 

What does this mean for people who hold multiple minoritized identities? 

Those who hold multiple identities or belong to multiple groups face unique challenges. From biases they encounter to finding culturally and linguistically competent clinicians, therapy is simply less accessible. 

Fortunately, there are ways mental health organizations can better support their community.  – For example, at Mental Health Partners, we’ve started by hiring more diverse staff, creating a DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) plan to help better connect with clients, and continuing to invest in outreach in the community. 

While we may never truly understand what different people go through, even those with similar backgrounds and life experiences, we can create a safe space where all can be heard and ultimately begin to heal. 

Mental health matters. 

To learn more about how Mental Health Partners serves Boulder and Broomfield counties, visit our community page. 

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