Thursday, July 10, 2014

Diversity Mental Health Month: Why It is Needed and How It Came to Be

By Steve Koh, MD, MPH, MBA

July of 2014 is the very first APA Diversity Mental Health Month. This emphasis on mental health needs of diverse populations is much needed. While we have diversity oriented month observances for specific population groups like the Black History Month (February), National Women’s History Month (March), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), Gay and Lesbian Pride Month (June), American Indian Heritage Month (August), and Hispanic Heritage Month (September), we have not had a dedicated month more broadly addressing diverse populations and mental health issues.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this month. For the first time, together, we will bring attention to the unique and challenging needs of the diverse populations with mental illness and substance use disorders, work to decrease mental health disparities, and engage with diverse populations to help promote and grow future mental health champions in the communities.

The concept for Diversity Mental Health Month came from a group of participants in APA’s Minority Fellowship program.  The program’s goal is to eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in mental health and substance abuse care by providing specialized training and mentorship. The fellowship fosters those with diverse backgrounds who have chosen to become physicians specializing in mental health and to do this work with the diverse populations.  

But what happens when we go home? What then? We felt that it was easy to get lost when we left our APA meetings in Washington DC. How do we galvanize our colleagues at home to look at the importance of minority mental health issues? To recognize the stigma of being an ethnic and cultural minority and also suffering mental illness? To understand that many minority students do not consider going into field of medicine let alone mental health profession? To appreciate the importance of cultural competency and humility in working with diverse patient population?

Without involvement a coordinated effort by the APA, it was our belief that while we personally benefited from the fellowship experience, our impact would be limited. There needed to be a designated time for all of APA to bring attention to this important patient population.  So the idea was born to create a Diversity Mental Health Month. The APA Assembly asked APA staff to help create a month designated to minority mental health issues and for the APA to actively promote the month.

I hope that others are excited about this new endeavor of the APA as I am. The challenges are great but together we can bring the needed attention to this area of our profession.

Many resources, including an infographic with basic data on mental health disparities, and brochures and fact sheets on specific populations, suggested activities, video messages, and more, are available at

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