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Plan now for Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

March 13, 2015
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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Do you have data about how minorities are represented on your staff, as well as how minority patients are doing in their outcomes?

Now seems to be an opportune time to refocus on improving minority mental health.

In Wisconsin, we have news of another killing of a "person of color" by a white police officer that has sparked fear and anger in the community. Of course, the circumstances differ case by case, but the news reports can be quite a wakeup call for how we might help a community that is hurting.

At the University of Oklahoma, fraternity members were captured making horrific racial comments, including a call for lynching. The fraternity was immediately shut down, and two students were expelled.

Protests about such incidents indicate some of the emotional impact and pain in society. Less obvious are the micro-aggressions suffered daily that adversely affect minority mental health.

We have a role

We in mental healthcare have not been exempt from these concerns. In our field, minorities have experienced care disparities. Meanwhile,  many racial and ethnic minorities tend to be less trusting of the mainstream mental health services that we deliver.

Young African-American males, for example, are less likely to be given a psychiatric evaluation than to be sent to jail for strange behavior. When those from minority backgrounds are hospitalized, they are less likely to receive adequate follow-up care. Outpatient psychotherapy tends to be provided less often. These, and other examples, have called for more cultural competence.

Did you know that July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness month? Is your organization preparing something special to address that?

Awareness is the first key. Recognize and publicize that you know this is a special month for minority mental health.

Although we have come a long way since “drapetomania”  was used in the 1850s to diagnose the "madness" of runaway slaves, there is still a ways to go. Let's be aware of that and translate our awareness into action.

For instance, inservice training should provide a review of how to provide culturally competent care. If need be, experts from outside of your agency should be brought in for a special session. Included could even be a history lesson. Since July includes Independence Day, that provides a ready connection to the lack of independence for black slaves and the justification for drapetomania at that time. We can then be reminded of our modern day remnant of the overrepresentation of young black males in prison, many with mental health and substance abuse problems. 

Outcomes should be assessed to see if patients from minority backgrounds are receiving comparable outcomes to non-minority patients. If your agency does not have patients of minority backgrounds, that should not stop us from voicing concern for their mental health in general society. In that regard, consider joining in a project with other local, regional, or national organizations devoted to minority mental health. Perhaps host a joint conference of some sort with your local police force to see if you are complementing one another.

Another creative sort of idea? Have a staff contest for the best way to increase minority mental health awareness. Begin your planning process now.

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...