Integrative Care Increases Access to Mental Health Services for African Americans

Compared to white Americans, African Americans are disproportionately affected by mental illnesses. New York University professor Norissa Williams found one healthcare model which can help change that and increase access and utilization of mental health services by African Americans.

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In our current climate, an integrative care framework is the best approach to providing African Americans with access to mental health care services, finds a systemic review of mental health care access, treatment, and barriers. The review was published in Best Practices in Mental Health and authored by NYU Steinhardt visiting assistant professor Norissa Williams.

“Integrated care frameworks are beneficial to many but are of particular importance when considering mental health care for African-Americans who do not traditionally use mental health services, but are in need,” said NYU Steinhardt Visiting Assistant Professor of Applied Psychology Norissa Williams. “My co-authors and I present suggestions for an integrated health care model which specifically addresses the need for access to mental health services for African-Americans in a way that has not previously been discussed. The significance of this paper cannot be understated in a time when drastic health care changes promise to set back America’s most marginalized groups.”

Integrated care refers to integrating multiple sectors of care (e.g., primary care, behavioral health care, substance abuse services, etc.) into one system. This model has been implemented as a solution to high health care costs, low service utilization, barriers to access, poor quality of care, and patient dissatisfaction with health care institutions. Through this model, multiple sectors and the interdisciplinary professionals within them, work together to offer coordinated, high-quality care.

Without using an integrated model, care can be fragmented such that a client might receive mental health services at a community health center while receiving physical health care from a primary care physician with no interaction between the two – no matter how interrelated the client’s conditions are. As a result, a client’s health would not be viewed holistically in this case.

In the systemic review, Williams outlined the barriers and facilitators to mental health care access and treatment within African American communities, and demonstrated how an integrative care framework helps to alleviate this issues. Some of the considerations when examining mental health care accessibility for African Americans include: mental illness stigma, cost of care, transportation, lack of specialty and preventative care, and others.

Williams also suggests that integrative care models should include cultural awareness competency training for practitioners, and set constructs that challenge practitioners to examine their own cultural values to reduce cultural bias in interactions with and assessments of African American clientele.

In addition to Williams, the review’s co-author’s include Babe Kawaii-Bogue, a postdoctoral clinical fellow at Richmond Area Multiservices, Inc. in San Francisco, CA and Kameron MacNear, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Compared to white Americans, and in part due to barriers that affect their mental health care access and utilization, African Americans are disproportionately affected by mental illnesses,” said Williams. “At a time where changes to our health care system are consistently being evaluated, we must back policies like the Affordable Care Act which improves mental health service delivery for African Americans by providing support and incentives for states and health care providers to establish health care models that integrate primary care and behavioral health care services.”