Community mental health programs and academic centers are chipping away at
the problem of mental health disparities among racial and ethnic minorities
with education, advocacy, and anti-stigma initiatives.
A number of mental health advocates and clinicians associated with these
initiatives met in Philadelphia for APA's Office of Minority and National
Affairs (OMNA) on Tour meeting in Philadelphia in March to discuss what they
OMNA on Tour is designed to generate discussion about racial and ethnic
disparities in mental health care and spotlight model programs that aim to
reduce disparities and help minorities find relief from mental health problems
(see related article at left).
Medical students and residents at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical
School-Camden in Camden, N.J., are trained about cultural issues from"
day one," according to Thomas Newmark, M.D., chief of the
department of psychiatry at the Cooper University Hospital and professor of
psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical
Thomas Newmark, M.D., tells attendees that medical students and
residents at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School—Camden are immersed
in cultural diversity training.
Camden's population is 53 percent African American, 27 percent Latino, and
3 percent Asian, according to Newmark, so "our medical students and
residents need to learn about the culture of the patients they are
Medical student orientation includes sessions on the importance of
understanding race, ethnicity, and culture from the health care delivery
standpoint, he noted.
Medical students also take simulated clinical exams that teach cultural
competency and participate in "Harmony Day," in which"
culture is celebrated, and students from different ethnic backgrounds
display through dress, dance, music, and food their unique cultural
backgrounds," Newmark said.
In a Philadelphia-area program, psychiatrists, health care administrators,
and consumer mental health staff received diversity training under a program
called Partners Reaching to Improve Multicultural Effectiveness Institute
(PRIME). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funded
the training, which was led by staff and faculty from Drexel University
College of Medicine, Behavioral Healthcare Education, and the University of
Pennsylvania School of Social Work's Mental Health Research Center. The
training ended in January.
According to Cheri Avery-Black, M.A., the program's director, PRIME sought
to increase awareness of cultural issues in trainees and to help them"
learn about the impact of discrimination on help-seeking behaviors and
the expression of psychiatric symptoms."
Trainees also learned how to integrate culture into group, family, and
social network interventions that supported recovery, she said.
In addition, trainees participated in a two-day session outlining
strategies that prevent people from internalizing messages of discrimination,
which can worsen mental health problems.
There were also a number of demonstration projects under PRIME, including
one in which minority students participated in a school-based program that
used creative arts to help them manage stress arising from cross-cultural
"Negative cross-cultural encounters in school exacerbated emotional
and behavioral problems" in the children, Avery-Black noted.
Through theatrical performances, poetry, drawing, and music, the students
expressed and resolved these conflicts with the help of program staff, she
Another program featured at the OMNA on Tour meeting seeks to teach
minority residents of Wilmington, Del., that mental illness is common and
Paul Galonsky, senior community educator of the Mental Health Association
in Wilmington, began by presenting mental health information at local churches
and community centers. He also established a mental health support group for
the community's minority members, which meets regularly at a Wilmington
By partnering with the local branch of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People, area churches, a Latin-American community
center, and state and city officials, Galonsky helped to establish the first
Annual People of Color Mental Health Conference in Delaware in October
The first meeting attracted more than 200 attendees and has grown each year
since. This year's conference will be held on November 4, and its theme is"
Celebrating Five Years of Mental Health Education Through Mind, Body,
Galonsky said, "We wanted to create the conference for the lay
individual," who may have a number of misconceptions about mental health
and mental illness.
He wanted community members to realize that mental health issues impact
everyone. "I wanted to create a sense of urgency around this—that
the risk of not treating mental illness is everybody's problem," noted
At each conference, mental health experts and advocates educate the public
about risk factors for mental health problems in minorities, for instance, and
where they can find mental health services in the community.
Some of the sponsors of the annual conference include APA's OMNA on Tour
program, a number of pharmaceutical companies, and the U.S. Surgeon General's