U.S. Surgeon General Releases Report on Mental Health: Culture, Race & Ethnicity
On Sunday, August 26, 2001, at the annual conference of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher released a report on the impact of mental illnesses on racial and ethnic minority groups in the United States.
In some cases, language is a key barrier to treatment. Appearing on the podium with the Surgeon General was Hoi Wong, who coordinates Asian family issues for NAMI's San Gabriel Valley affiliate in California, "We need mental health clinics with bilingual staffs," he declared.
But language is not the only problem. Although Asian-Americans have approximately the same rate of mental disorders as whites, they are the least likely to seek treatment, in part because of cultural attitudes toward mental illness. Similar problems exist for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans.
The 200-page report and related fact sheets are available on the Surgeon General's Website at www.surgeongeneral.gov.
The following is the statement of NAMI Executive Director Richard Birkel, Ph.D on the Surgeon General's report.
Statement of Richard Birkel, Ph.D.
NAMI Executive Director
U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher has continued to move forward from the landmark Report on Mental Health, published in 1999, and the report of Children's Mental Health published earlier this year. Taking a closer look at four principal racial and ethnic communities in the United States-African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Hispanic Americans-this latest report finds that in a society where access to mental healthcare is already limited, most minority groups "are less likely than whites to use services, and they receive poorer quality mental health care."
The report is a stunning indictment of the gap between American ideals of one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, and the reality of our nation's mental healthcare system. America derives strength from racial and ethnic diversity, and cannot tolerate a system that violates fundamental principles of equality in providing help to people who grow ill.
As a threshold concern, the Surgeon General reiterates support for legislation to achieve parity in health insurance coverage of mental illnesses-a need that affects all racial and ethnic groups. NAMI therefore is encouraged that in a message accompanying the report, Secretary of Health & Human Services, Tommy G. Thompson, acknowledged the fact that effective treatments exist for most mental disorders, and that to date, "Americans do not share equally in the best that science has to offer."
Secretary Thompson has called the report a "first step" toward preventing mental health problems and reducing the effects of mental illness." Actually, it is only the latest in a series of reports and reforms in recent years. The most important first step that the federal government can take this year to support principles of equal access to treatment is to enact the parity legislation now pending in Congress. That truly would be a bold step toward addressing the Surgeon General's concerns.
The Surgeon General's report on Mental Health: Culture, Race & Ethnicity (200 pages) is available on-line at www.surgeongeneral.com.