Workforce Diversity Leads to Better Mental Health Services

Like many health issues, mental illness affects those who directly suffer and those who love and care for them. To bring awareness to the far-reaching effects of mental health disorders, specifically in minority groups that are underserved by a homogenous health care workforce, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recognizes July as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. In memory of the NAMI Urban Los Angeles co-founder, the U.S. House of Representatives deemed July Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month in 2008 and NAMI continues to promote public awareness of mental illness and work to improve access to treatment throughout this month each year.

Bebe Moore Campbell’s Long-lasting Legacy

As an author and advocate for those who suffer, Bebe Moore Campbell made it her life’s work to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness. She co-founded NAMI Urban Los Angeles and inspired many to dedicate themselves to the cause before her death in 2008. With her friend Linda Wharton-Boyd, Campbell outlined the concept of a month dedicated to minority mental health. Working with former DC mayor Anthony Williams, the pair formed a National Minority Mental Health Taskforce.

Increasing Diversity to Better Serve Patients

Most of those in today’s health care workforce interact with people suffering from mental illness on a daily basis as 1 in 5 American adults will experience some level during their lives. To best serve all of those in this population, providers need to be aware of the unique experiences and perspectives that affect the patients who they serve.

For instance, student Gwendolyn Wu highlighted the lack of mental health resources students of color and LGBT students face in a post on TakePart:

Advocates are finding they have to dig deeper to satisfy a growing desire for counselors attuned to the groups’ unique concerns. With more students of color — many of them first-generation college students — attending college than ever, according to the U.S. Department of Education, campus psychologists face a greater variety of issues to handle.

Students need a counselor with whom they can identify, concerning when you consider that the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors reports clinical staff are 72% white, 10% black and only 0.5% Native American.

That’s not to say that white students aren’t as affected by mental health issues as students of other races. Though mental health affects everyone regardless of culture, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, each of these factors affect what type of treatment is most effective for the patient.

The U.S. prides itself on being a multicultural nation. Immigrants, migrant workers and international students face unique obstacles, including culture shock, language barriers and even medical problems that local mental health providers may not be prepared to handle. In this Mental Health Facts infographic, NAMI shows that mental illness affects minority populations in many of the same ways while also highlighting the critical issues faced by multicultural communities, including decrease in likelihood of receiving treatment and poorer quality of care.


Providing Care Beyond the Clinic

Offices, clinics and hospitals provide much needed services to those seeking mental health care, but more patients from diverse backgrounds will be better served when we recognize that these traditional care environments are not enough on their own. Providers should be prepared to offer services where they are needed most, including in refugee camps, disaster crisis centers, homeless shelters and rural outreach centers.

Realizing that most mental health services are derived from Western thinking, professionals in this field should consider dedicating some of their continuing education credits to learning about other cultures. Some of the most important aspects to consider include:

  • Knowledge of your patient’s family structure, gender roles and dynamics.
  • Knowledge of the help-seeking behavior patterns of your patient’s culture.
  • Knowledge of specific disorders/illnesses that disproportionately affect those of your patient’s race.

Join the Mental Health Workforce

Physicians and nurses who work together to diagnose and treat mental health and emotional problems work in the field of psychiatry. As a psychiatrist, you’ll diagnose patients and also help prevent mental health and emotional issues and manage other medical issues. Psychiatrists have full medical tests and labs available to them to aid in their diagnosis and treatments. They may also specialize in a specific field, such as pediatrics or geriatrics.

Psychiatric nurses work alongside physicians and are specialized in their field. They educate, assess and treat mental health patients. There are several advanced nursing certifications available to those interested in this specialty, including Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs), who are able to offer primary care services in this field. Advanced Practice RNs earn a post-graduate degree and are critical in primary care, as well as in policy development and health care reform.

Often confused with psychiatrists, psychologists similarly focus on clinical coping. Many psychologists work in hospitals, prisons and other clinical settings. They earn a PhD before beginning to practice and they use a variety of techniques based on research to individualize the treatment for each patient.

Diversity matters in all areas of health care. National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is one great opportunity to continue this discussion and inspire action around diversifying our health care workforce.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *