Role of Multicultural Organizations

Multicultural organizations come in a great variety of shapes and sizes and with various missions; they can be a valuable resource in developing mental health services that target the unique needs of HIV-positive African Americans with mental health problems. Their staffs and boards are knowledgeable about patients’ cultural values and practices—whether they may be men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users, adolescents, women, or others—and how those are relevant to the provision of mental health services. Fundamentally, multicultural organizations can serve as gatekeepers, opening the door to facilitate communication between mental healthcare providers and patients and to help untangle the knot by designing appropriate services.

Developing Strategies to Address HIV-Positive African Americans’ Mental Healthcare Needs

To encourage African Americans’ access to and use of mental health services and HIV treatment, many of the essential structures and frameworks are already available; they need to be expanded and more fully developed to better address this population’s needs. [NAMI African American, 2009] Potential approaches to cultivating greater access could include:

  • Individual and institutional mental healthcare providers can partner with established institutions in African American communities—eg, churches, other religious organizations, and community-based organizations—to increase awareness of mental health concerns and the resources available to address them, as well as to decrease the stigmas surrounding mental disorders and HIV.
  • Efforts should be made to expand programs that increase enrollment (in Medicaid, public hospitals, local health departments) that can improve access to mental healthcare services for which coverage is provided by such programs.
  • Colleges, universities, and other training programs should develop outreach to African American communities to encourage education aimed at growing the number of African American mental healthcare providers. Such efforts would have 2 vital benefits: a larger number of providers available to the community and greater sensitivity among the provider community to African Americans’ mental health and HIV education and treatment needs.
  • Greater attention by members of the mental healthcare community to specific African American cultural differences—eg, differences in medication metabolization rates, idioms of distress, epidemiology of particular mental disorders, and so forth—can both improve African Americans’ treatment experiences and increase their access to and use of mental healthcare services.

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Howard University College of Medicine AIDS Education and Training Center - National Multicultural Center