Confronting barriers | Behavioral Healthcare Executive Skip to content Skip to navigation

Confronting barriers

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

At the time of the NMA's public release of the resolution, Rahn Bailey, MD, chair of the NMA Section on Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, stated:

We now have, for the first time, a leading organization of African-American physicians asserting that ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that can adversely affect African-Americans. I have long thought that untreated ADHD very well could be one reason why we are overrepresented in special education services and the criminal justice system. The great tragedy, though, is that the news media have arrived at a different and, I might add, very unscientific finding that African-Americans are being overdiagnosed.

Passage of the resolution was the culmination of work that began in 2004 when CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) convened leading experts on ADHD in the African-American community to develop a consensus statement on the disorder's effects on African-Americans. CHADD and conference leaders (including Dr. Bailey; M. Christopher Griffith, MD; Karen Taylor-Crawford, MD; Diane Buckingham, MD; and Peter Jensen, MD) also organized a 2004 Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) briefing hosted by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and Donna M. Christensen (D-Virgin Islands). Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, spoke at the CBC briefing. Following the briefing, Dr. Bailey took the consensus statement to the NMA Section on Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, which recommended the resolution to the NMA governing body.

In 2001, the Surgeon General released a report documenting that African-American children were less likely than white youth to receive quality mental health services. Since then, CHADD has been proactive in supporting the Surgeon General's recommendations through its work with the NMA.

CHADD and NMA were spurred to action when in July 2003 the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a resolution titled “The Concerns and Discrepancies in Special Education and the Use of Psychotropic Drugs on Children and Teens.” The NAACP resolution adopted language recommended by a Los Angeles–based church and included clauses such as:

Whereas, there are documented incidents of highly negative consequences in which psychiatric prescription drugs have been utilized for what are essentially problems of discipline which may be related to lack of academic success, and it has been suggested that recent incidents of school violence and other occasions of violence are the result of children being unnecessarily medicated by Schedule II and other psychotropic drugs….

[L]earning disabilities involved subjective diagnoses, not objective medical diagnoses. There is no definitive physically based definition of learning disability, and the terms “Serious Emotional Disturbances,” “Emotional Disturbance” and “Specific Learning Disabilities” have no scientific merit, are subjectively determined, and….

[T]here is controversy and diverse medical opinion about ADHD and learning disorders and that according to medical opinion, such problems can be attributed to various causes such as environmental toxins, allergies, nutritional deficiencies, and many other similar causes….

Now that the NMA House of Delegates has spoken, hopefully the public's focus will be on promoting access to science-based assessments and treatments for ADHD.

E. Clarke Ross, DPA, is CEO of Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). He is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's Editorial Board.