NJAMHAA Promotes Cultural Competence and Removing Stigma for Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

July 20, 2017

MERCERVILLE, NJ - The year 2017 has been a turbulent one in the world of healthcare reform as Republican leaders in Congress have been trying to replace the Affordable Care Act, reduce federal government costs, and lower premiums. The primary strategies to achieve those goals have been cuts to Medicaid, and the rollback of consumer protections such as Essential Health Benefits coverage. Now that the Senate attempt to overhaul healthcare has been rejected, Congress is at a crossroads, with President Donald Trump vowing to allow the Affordable Care Act to "fail on its own."

Provisions in the Affordable Care Act have greatly expanded access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment services, benefitting vulnerable Americans and especially minorities. In most minority communities, individuals experience higher rates of poverty and violence than white Americans, and struggle with worse health outcomes as a result. Americans who are racial or ethnic minorities are more likely to be afflicted with mental illnesses and substance use disorders, while also having lower rates of access to treatment. As demographic trends have been shifting and creating more diverse communities, healthcare providers increasingly find themselves confronting health disparities among various groups.

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA), a trade association representing nearly 160 New Jersey community-based providers of behavioral healthcare services, has opposed all efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and continually promotes multicultural understanding to improve quality of care for all residents of this diverse state.

In 2008, Congress established July as Bebe Moore Campbell Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, named after the prominent African-American author and mental health advocate, to draw attention to mental health and substance use issues within minority populations. People who identify with racial or ethnic minority groups make up about 37.4% of the United States population, and Mental Health America (MHA), which participates in the Minority Mental Health Awareness Month initiatives, has found that different minority groups have different attitudes about mental illnesses and a range of needs for treatment. In the current increasingly multicultural society, cultural competence is becoming more and more necessary to enable all Americans to thrive.

"Our member providers and the individuals they serve are quite diverse. Clinicians who have the ability to communicate with individuals who speak different languages and have varied beliefs are well equipped to serve diverse individuals most effectively," said Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., President and CEO of NJAMHAA.

NJAMHAA is a member of the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) Multicultural Services Group (MSG), which works to develop technical assistance for behavioral health agencies to ensure that cultural competency is an integral part of service delivery. Multicultural issues are also a salient subject of critical discussion at NJAMHAA's meetings and conferences; the 2017 Fall Behavioral Healthcare Meeting, Shaping Our Future, taking place on October 24 at the Pines Manor in Edison, will feature workshops on working with specific populations, including older Americans, LGBTQI, and Latinos.

NJAMHAA members lead their behavioral health colleagues in improving multicultural services. In North Jersey, CultureConnections, run by member agency FAMILYConnections, is a program funded by DMHAS to provide training and consultation for agencies seeking assistance in improving organizational cultural competence. In South Jersey, member agency the Family Service Association of South Jersey operates the Mental Health Cultural Competence Center (MHCCC), also funded by the State of New Jersey that provides mental health professionals with training, and published resources on cultural competence.

NJAMHAA's charitable subsidiary, the New Jersey Mental Health Institute (NJMHI), has done extensive research and reporting on improving mental health outcomes for the Hispanic population through its nationally and internationally recognized project Changing Minds, Advancing Mental Health for Hispanics. Additionally, NJMHI has received grants in recent years to conduct trainings for clinicians on different clinical techniques that can be used to treat veterans, as well as cultural competence for most effectively serving this population.

Through the work of NJAMHAA-affiliated groups and agencies, cultural competence is increasingly coming to the forefront of improving the delivery of behavioral healthcare services. Spreading awareness and educational resources about relating to diverse populations by informing language, attitudes, and behaviors, as well as encouraging inclusion and inter-cultural dialogue, is making behavioral healthcare services more accessible to members of minority populations, which improves overall mental health. For Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, NJAMHAA encourages advocates to remain mindful of the diversity in their communities, and to encourage the breakdown of cultural barriers that prevent minority Americans from accessing behavioral healthcare and living fulfilled lives.

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