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Joining with SAMHSA to Support Mental and Behavioral Health in All American Communities


By Norman. B. Anderson, PhD (CEO, American Psychological Association)

Mental and behavioral health matter for all Americans.  Do all Americans have equal access to mental health care?

In 2001, then U. S. Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, released his report, Mental Health: Culture, Race and Ethnicity.  The report found profound differences in access to and utilization of mental health services between majority and minority communities, with many racial and ethnic minority communities experiencing serious barriers to receiving the behavioral and mental health care they need.  Some of these barriers were based in personal preference, i.e., cultural norms and attitudes about mental health, but others were rooted in structural barriers such as limited availability of providers in minority communities, lack of insurance coverage, even transportation issues.

The important question is, has progress been made since 2001 on these access, cultural understanding and cost issues?

The good news is that some progress has been made thanks to legislation: including the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 and the Affordable Care Act of 2010.  Yet these policy changes are not enough.  A 2015 report of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that service cost or lack of insurance coverage was the most frequently cited reason for not using mental health services across all racial and ethnic groups.  Interestingly, the belief that the use of mental health services would not help was the least frequently cited reason for not using such services across all races and ethnic groups.

Obviously more work needs to be done to ensure that all Americans, regardless of their race or ethnicity, have access to high-quality and culturally appropriate mental health services.  The month of July – Minority Mental Health Month – is a particularly good time to call attention to this important goal.

APA is committed to numerous strategies and initiatives designed to create more access to mental health services in minority communities. SAMHSA’s mission, of course, is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.  Together the two organizations are important strategic partners.  We have been proud to work with SAMHSA and its Administrator Pam Hyde on a number of projects in support of our mutual goals. What follows are short descriptions of two of these initiatives:

APA Minority Fellowship Program – for 41 years SAMHSA has provided funding for APA’s Minority Fellowship Program (MFP).  MFP is a mentoring and career development program designed to enhance psychological and behavioral outcomes of ethnic minority communities by increasing the number of ethnic minority mental health professionals and by advancing the discipline’s understanding of minority mental health issues. Since its inception in 1974, 1,800 psychologists have received training through the program.

Boys and Men Health Disparities Initiative – earlier this year, APA and SAMHSA co-sponsored an experts meeting to address the knowledge gaps on effective, evidence-based interventions for addressing trauma and stress-related disorders in boys and men across racial and ethnic minority groups.  Conference speakers, including Dr. Oscar Barbarin, a psychology professor at Tulane University, described the way in which young boys of color, when you control for socioeconomic status, look similar to all young boys.  But, by the time they are teenagers there are stark differences on nearly every negative measure of well-being; with boys of color scoring high on those negative measures and low on positive measures.  This has to change! The 2.5 day summit meeting was designed to review these data and explore their causes and how they can be addressed.  (See APA’s Monitor on Psychology coverage of the meeting at

For more information about these or other APA projects visit our website at

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