July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Each year, SAMHSA joins the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health to promote the message that prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover. This month also presents an opportunity to reflect on how the behavioral health system can connect more effectively with people across different cultural backgrounds and experiences. Data from our National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that members of racial and ethnic minority groups are significantly less likely to receive services for any mental illness, than are non-Hispanic whites. In order to close the treatment gap and eliminate health disparities, SAMHSA works to help connect people who need these services the most.
One way to close the gap is to increase the number of behavioral health professionals who are committed to working with underserved communities. SAMHSA administers the Minority Fellowship Program with the aim of reducing health disparities and improving behavioral health outcomes. Through scholarships, training, mentorship and other program resources, the Minority Fellowship Program prepares behavioral health care providers to serve people of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. One example out of the 3,500 fellows the Program has funded is Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart. Through her work with the Minority Fellowship program, she developed a model that has been used in indigenous communities across the globe to improve mental health and help individuals and communities heal from the impacts of historical trauma.
Every racial and ethnic community has unique needs and SAMHSA’s publications, skills training materials and other resources address these needs for many groups. For example, we work with the 105 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to recruit and prepare students for behavioral health careers. SAMHSA’s HBCU Center for Excellence administers funding that supports curriculum development, career preparation and internships in behavioral health education. Three of every four internships take place at community-based substance use treatment programs, and two in three grantees report increased student involvement in campus mental health initiatives.
SAMHSA’s Minority AIDS Initiative seeks to prevent new HIV and viral hepatitis infections, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority groups. The initiative also provides behavioral health supports to people with co-occurring serious mental illness and HIV/AIDS or viral hepatitis. Last year, Minority AIDS Initiative grantees provided mental health services to more than 4,600 people and the program supports HIV testing for over 20,000 people every year.
By expanding the workforce, developing culturally appropriate interventions, and integrating care, we can work to eliminate health disparities. To get involved in promoting minority mental health, visit the Office of Minority Health’s website for a list of activities and additional information. You can learn more about SAMHSA’s work in addressing disparities by visiting our Behavioral Health Equity, Tribal Law and Order Act Implementation and Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center websites.