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Confronting barriers

September 1, 2006
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Many factors influence African-American children's involvement in mental health services

Modern mental health therapies and diagnoses have not been widely accepted by the traditional African-American church, as it is often thought that spiritual health and life contentment represent religious faith and duty in serving God. For example, if one has a mental illness, then one should pray harder and more faithfully to rid oneself of the devil's influence. This traditional belief by many church leaders has created barriers to mental health services for many African-American children and their families. Some church leaders have actively discouraged seeking or receiving mental health services. Also, church leaders passively deter parishioners from mental healthcare services by not endorsing or promoting mental healthcare, while endorsing and promoting physical health maintenance. By not talking in church about mental health's importance, church leaders imply its lack of significance, and thereby further stigma and barriers to appropriate care and diagnosis.

Religious faith and church leaders continue to have a large impact on African-Americans' views of mental healthcare and research. Unfortunately, this fact often is overlooked by the mental healthcare system as a means of increasing access to mental healthcare. To decrease the mental health disparities for African-American youth and their families, mental health professionals must understand the importance of religious and spiritual beliefs for a large percentage of the African-American community. Additionally, the healthcare system must seek ways to work as a team with church leaders to decrease stigma and barriers to mental healthcare.

Tyehimba Hunt-Harrison, MD, is a staff psychiatrist at John Umstead Hospital's Child Psychiatric Institute in Butner, North Carolina, and can be reached at (919) 575-7621.

Tywanda Ellison, PhD, is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and can be reached at (919) 843-9989.


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ADHD in the African-American Community

by E. Clarke Ross, DPA The House of Delegates of the National Medical Association (NMA), which promotes the collective interests of physicians and patients of African descent, passed a resolution at its July 2005 annual conference on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The resolution helps to refute the contention, often disseminated in the media, that the disorder either does not exist or is overdiagnosed in African-Americans. The resolution reads:

  • ADHD exists, it occurs in African-American children and adults, and can be detrimental to African-Americans.

  • There is evidence-based medicine to support the contention that ADHD is an actual disorder.

  • African-American children and adults directly and indirectly may suffer a disproportionate burden because of ADHD.

  • African-American children deserve the highest quality of psychiatric medical care including optimal assessment, evaluation, and diagnosis, including a full, unrestricted open access to the best available medication for the treatment of ADHD and depression.