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

July 18, 2018

MERCERVILLE, NJ - From ongoing federal efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, to the separation of children from asylum-seeking parents at the southern border, to the persisting disparities in wealth and access to health care, 2018 has been a turbulent year for mental health for individuals of minority backgrounds.

In most minority communities, individuals experience higher rates of poverty and violence than Caucasian 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.

With people who identify with racial or ethnic minority groups predicted to comprise about half of the United States population by 2050, cultural competence in health care is becoming more and more critical to enable Americans of diverse backgrounds to thrive. 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.

The New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA), a trade association representing 160 New Jersey community-based providers of behavioral healthcare services, continually promotes multicultural understanding to improve quality of care for all residents of this diverse state. Multicultural issues are always a salient subject of discussion at NJAMHAA meetings and conferences.

"Our member providers and the individuals they serve come from many backgrounds, and the providers continue to push themselves to meet the needs of all vulnerable people in their communities. The diversity of New Jersey means people with behavioral health struggles need clinicians who can communicate in different languages and understand varied beliefs in order to serve individuals most effectively. NJAMHAA is so proud of our members for constantly striving to bridge gaps in mental health and substance use treatment," said Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., President and CEO of NJAMHAA.

Camden-based NJAMHAA member agency Center for Family Services, Inc. was recently featured in the news for providing shelter homes with compassionate, comprehensive social services for migrant children separated from their parents at the southern U.S. border.

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 the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services (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. In addition, NJAMHAA is an active member of the 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.

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 health. For Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, NJAMHAA encourages advocates to respect and celebrate the diversity in their communities, and to encourage the breakdown of cultural barriers that prevent minority Americans from accessing behavioral health care and living fulfilled lives.

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