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Improving Mental Health and Substance Use Services for Underserved Communities

Publication Date: Jul 01, 2021

July is Black, Indigenous People, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month, also known as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Recognized by the US House of Representatives in 2008, the month aims to:1

  • Improve access to mental health treatment and services and expand public awareness of mental health disorders
  • Honor the advocacy and work of Bebe Moore Campbell to enhance public understanding of mental health issues among BIPOC

 

As part of recognizing the month, it is important to understand that BIPOC individuals and communities face a significant unmet need for substance use and mental health treatment services. In 2019, at least 52% of African Americans with a mental health condition perceived an unmet need for treatment services. Likewise, 56% of similar American Indians/Alaska Natives, 71% of Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders, 59% of Asian Americans, and 53% of Hispanic or Latino origin.2 Whereby, 86% of African Americans in need of specialized substance use treatment services did not receive such care. In addition, 90% of similar American Indians/Alaska Natives, 59% of Native Hawaiians/Other Pacific Islanders, 99% of Asian Americans, and 90% of people with Hispanic or Latino origin.3

 

BIPOC Mental Health Month is an opportunity to raise awareness of these unmet needs. Notably, it highlights the importance of improving access to and availability of behavioral health services, such as access to prevention services. Precisely quantifying the level of unmet need for prevention services is difficult. But the high level of unmet need for treatment suggests that unmet need for prevention is also likely high. In this case, the first step to addressing any unmet need is to understand why it exists and its impact on people. This begins with talking directly with people and showing support. Mental Health First Aid USA recommends the steps of:4

  • Take time to learn
  • Respect the person’s culture
  • Ask questions
  • Focus on recovery and wellness

 

Finally, remember that behavioral health services fall along a continuum of care, and mental health and substance use disorders are often co-occurring.5 Not surprisingly, substance use and mental health services providers regularly serve overlapping populations – in both treatment and prevention/promotion. This overlap presents opportunities to partner across behavioral health providers. Substance use prevention professionals should consider collaborating with mental health organizations to create BIPOC Mental Health Month events. More information on BIPOC Mental Health Month is available through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Prevention training and technical assistance on these and other topics are available through the Central East Prevention Technology Transfer Center.


 

  1. Congress.gov (n/d). H.Con.Res.134 - Expressing the sense of the Congress that there should be established a Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month to enhance public awareness of mental illness, especially within minority communities. Available at https://www.congress.gov/bill/110th-congress/house-concurrent-resolution/134/text
  2. NSDUH (2020). Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 8.27A
  3. NSDUH (2020). Results from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Tables 5.33A & 5.33B
  4. Mental Health First Aid USA (2020). Four ways to show support this minority mental health month. Available at https://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/2020/07/four-ways-to-show-support-this-minority-mental-health-month/
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018). Comorbidity: Substance use and other mental disorders. Available at https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/comorbidity-substance-use-other-mental-disorders