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Diversity Mental Health Month: Cultural Competency Key to Better Outcomes

     

This month is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diversity Mental Health Month, when we take time to appreciate diversity, raise awareness of the unique mental health issues facing diverse populations, and work to eliminate mental health disparities.

Diversity is a priority for APA and the APA administration. We realize that making sure that our leadership, members and staff are culturally sensitive is essential to addressing mental health disparities and in achieving better outcomes for our patients in minority and underserved populations. The heart of diversity is cooperation and collaboration between people who are from different backgrounds.

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The APA and its Division of Diversity and Health Equity recently hosted the Cultural Competence and Inclusive Excellence Summit. We chose the same theme and title for this year’s Diversity Mental Health Month.

Our partners in the summit included leaders from General Motors and Ohio State University, as well as the White House Office of Science and Technology Programs. There were over 30+ organizations representing a multi-sector commitment to diversity and cultural competency.

One focus of the summit was the development of a diverse, culturally competent workforce where organizations and their employees are better able to respond to the unique needs of each person. For psychiatrists, of course, this would refer to our patients and their families. Being able to understand their unique cultural backgrounds enables us to get a better understanding of the way a given patient and their family may react to and communicate about mental illness. This better understanding between doctor and patient invariably translates to better outcomes.

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To this end, one of the summit takeaways for APA is the building of cultural competency training programs for psychiatrists. We know that a demographic gap exists between our members and many of their patients. The aim of our cultural competency training modules is to make our psychiatrists more culturally competent and sensitive to a rapidly changing patient population and thus, providing a higher level of quality care.

Just as each patient brings a unique cultural perspective on mental illness, our members bring a unique perspective to their work that is influenced by their own cultural background. For this reason, APA is also committed to workforce diversity, including the increase in geographic diversity of our membership.

Disparities in mental health exist, and APA intends to address them head-on. To do this, we’ll need to train our current workforce to be more culturally sensitive and attract a pipeline of new generation psychiatrists from cultural and geographically diverse backgrounds.

About the Author

By Ranna Parekh, M.D., Director of the Division of Diversity and Health Equity

     

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