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Creating a National Action Plan to Eliminate Disparities in Mental Health

August 2007

During the last two years, NAMI hosted two multicultural taskforce meetings to address mental health in communities of color.  More than 30 organizations gathered at these meetings to identify key advocacy priority areas.  The work of these two taskforces will be compiled and released as a National Action Plan to Eliminate Mental Health Disparities.

The first meeting focused on adult mental health.  Landmark reports such as the Surgeon General’s Report on Culture, Race, and Ethnicity and the President’s New Freedom Commission Report have consistently underscored the wide disparities in mental health care experienced by minority communities, and provided important recommendations to address the myriad barriers to quality treatment.  Taskforce participants agreed that unfortunately little has been done to change this reality. The group identified areas in need of immediate attention, and developed a plan of action for the following key priorities:

  • Consumer and Family-Driven Care: Acknowledging that any successful changes to mental health care will require active and meaningful involvement of people with mental illnesses and their families at all levels.
  • Quality of Care and Access: Any transformation of the mental health system must address the myriad barriers to accessing treatment and must make a concerted effort to improve the quality of care provided to diverse communities.
  • Public Information (Education): Only with a base of knowledge and understanding of mental illness can communities of color be enabled as active partners in the prevention and treatment of these illnesses.
  • Workforce Development: The scarcity of mental health providers of color and the lack of cultural competency training for the existing provider community has been a major factor in poor quality care for racial/ethnic individuals.

The second taskforce meeting focused on children’s mental health, and took place at the NAMI 2007 National Convention in June.  Further discussion ensued on the four identified priority areas, in addition to collaboration on two major strategies--advocacy and networking--to move these areas forward. Highlights from each area include:

Advocacy strategies:

  • The presidential elections provide an opportunity to discuss how to address disparities for communities of color.The Group discussed the need to draft talking points to distribute among advocates.
  • Currently, Congress has several different bills addressing mental health services for children and adults. Participants discussed the importance of keeping advocates informed about these bills and the need to advocate for a focus on multicultural mental health.
  • Build arsenal of model state legislation and monitor state by state advocacy efforts.
  • Address diverse community needs of support and mental health education before encouraging advocacy.

Networking strategies:

  • Identify additional partners outside of behavioral health realm (chronic disease management, primary care, etc.).
  • Build state/national coalitions to address disparities
  • Join efforts such as SAMHSA’s National Network to Eliminate Disparities, whose mission is to build and sustain a national network of organizations to work collaboratively with diverse cultural, racial, ethnic and linguistic communities to promote policies, practices, standards and research to eliminate behavioral health disparities and disseminate new knowledge and innovations to the field.

In the coming months, NAMI will put together an Action Plan that captures the work of both taskforce meetings.  This plan will guide our collaborative work to advocate for quality mental health care and support for communities of color.  


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