OMH Celebrates National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Action Needed

(July 27, 2023) Matthew Canuteson, Pronouns: He, Him, His, Diversity and Inclusion Officer, New York State Office of Mental Health, Office of Diversity and Inclusion

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each July to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States. In addition to raising awareness, the Office of Mental Health’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion also wants to share resources, draw attention to the Agency’s multifaceted strategy to eliminate disparities, and asks everyone to commit to the actions necessary to eliminate disparities listed at the end of this announcement. Because race-based inequities in mental wellness are deeply rooted in inequities in the social determinants of mental health, it has been imperative that the Office of Mental Health utilizes numerous strategies to address disparities in a complementary fashion.

These recent advances include: 

  • Increased investments in the collection and use of data that identifies current race-based disparities in New York’s public mental health system. These investments include the launch of the Vital Signs Dashboard (VSD). The VSD depicts racial, ethnic, and gender-based disparities to target policy and program interventions to correct identified disparities.
  • Increased focus on concrete program initiatives to address a long-standing lack of diverse representation in the mental health workforce. This includes an existing diversity pipeline program with the SUNY and CUNY education systems and a soon-to-be-launched loan forgiveness program specifically targeted to diverse individuals working in New York’s mental health system.
  • Strong and focused inclusion of the National CLAS Standards in the policy, funding and regulatory mechanisms used to operate the community mental health system. This includes the inclusion of equity language in all RFPs exclusively released by the Agency, the creation and implementation of the Universal Mental Health Equity Licensing Tool, and a proposed Stand Alone Equity Regulation that will greatly formalize the CLAS Standards into how New York’s mental health system functions.
  • Nearing finalization of a structural racism organizational assessment process with the NKI-Center for Research for Cultural and Structural Equity, to identify agency policies and practices contributing to racial inequities in NY’s mental health system.
  • Increased reliance on input from diverse stakeholders throughout the State, including from the well-known Multicultural Advisory Committee (MAC). The MAC advises the Office of Mental Health on policies and activities to eliminate disparities in quality, access and treatment outcomes for members of marginalized populations.
  • Greater focus on building diverse leadership in mental health provider organizations, including on governance boards, through support and investments (i.e., Coalition for Behavioral Health’s Diversity in Leadership Initiative).  
  • The provision of leadership and tangible contributions to additional inter-agency diversity, equity and inclusion efforts (i.e., NYS-DOH Inter-Agency Task Force on Health Equity and Human Rights).

While important to raise awareness, awareness without action is inadequate. As we look towards a future when a person’s race will no longer be a contributing determinant of one’s ability to access mental wellness, we suggest the following activities be employed. While the readers of this announcement have different roles, the suggested actions remain relevant no matter your role or position within your organization: 

  1. Structural Racism Assessment – Engage in formal efforts to identify internal and external policies and practices that unintentionally cause race-based inequities at your organization;
  2. Education – Prioritize educational opportunities that address the ways racism affects those served by your organization, including how to provide culturally relevant services;
  3. Services – Implement culturally relevant and focused services meant to address the unique cultural attributes of the populations served by your organization;
  4. Resources – Bravely target resources to populations historically and currently lacking adequate levels of culturally relevant services;
  5. Recognition – Recognize racism as a social determinant of mental health and actively challenge how racism plays out at the systemic and individual levels within our communities.

The following Spotlight series can help.

Matthew CanutesonPronouns: He, Him, His
Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Office of Diversity and Inclusion
New York State Office of Mental Health
44 Holland Ave 2nd Floor, Albany, NY 12229

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