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Members of underserved communities, including communities of color, have long experienced significant barriers to mental health care in the US. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed and widened those gaps and disparities. The health, social and economic challenges related to COVID-19 have affected all of us, but data shows that Black and Hispanic/Latino communities faced a disproportionate burden. Additionally, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities have endured racist and xenophobic attacks and discrimination. These communities are experiencing significant mental health challenges and need services that are accessible, culturally responsive and linguistically competent.
NAMI’s mission is to provide advocacy, education, support and public awareness so that all individuals and families affected by mental illness can build better lives. As part of that mission, NAMI’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan’s “Diversity and Inclusion accelerator” is now more critical than ever. It highlights our mandate to “infuse cultural competency and equity throughout our work and seek opportunities to better serve diverse communities.” We recommit to that accelerator and recognize the need for a clearer path forward.
A culturally competent organization is a learning organization that embraces cultural humility, cultural responsiveness, diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2021, we launched our Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) initiative by surveying the Alliance to identify the current state of NAMI’s cultural and linguistic competency journey. The results helped us identify our weaknesses, including the need to better reach underserved communities and diversify our workforce.
To move forward, we gained support from the board of directors to address the identified blind spots. With their support, some of the progress made includes:
These significant steps provide the basis of more comprehensive work in 2022 and beyond.
Our 2022 goal is to infuse JEDI principles into organizational priorities through governance, leadership, engagement and accountability. We will be driven by the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care. CLAS is a comprehensive set of 15 guidelines that inform, guide and facilitate practices related to culturally and linguistically appropriate health services. These standards were released by the Office of Minority Health (OMH) in 2000 and enhanced in 2013. The intent of the National CLAS Standards is to improve the quality of care, help eliminate health disparities experienced by underserved populations and advance health equity. For more details on the standards, please see links below.
Our CEO has chosen to focus initially on four goals aligned to the National CLAS Standards to cascade or spread through NAMI. They are:
We will begin with a staff training/kick-off event and continue with technical assistance to NAMI National’s departments to understand their JEDI objectives and alignment with CEO goals.
We believe our JEDI efforts will help to achieve a critical cornerstone of the NAMI mission and further define NAMI as a national leader in providing culturally competent/responsive mental health resources and supports and eliminating health disparities. Most importantly, we believe that these efforts will bring relief and hope to the thousands of people who need our support.