Increasing Cultural Competence to Reduce Behavioral Health Disparities

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (CAPT) has released Tools from the CAPT: Increasing Cultural Competence to Reduce Behavioral Health Disparities. This collection of hands-on tools and worksheets will help suicide prevention practitioners better understand and address the relationship between cultural competence and reducing behavioral health disparities.

Behavioral health disparities pose a significant threat to the most vulnerable populations in our society. Whether manifesting themselves as elevated rates of substance use among American Indian/Alaska Natives, high rates of suicide among LGBT youth, or reduced access to prevention services among people living in rural
areas, these disparities threaten the health and wellness of these populations, and of our society as a whole.

Reducing behavioral disparities is key to preventing substance use, yet doing so can be challenging. First, identifying groups that experience disparities can be difficult, as data on these populations isn’t always available. Second, there are no easy solutions: multiple factors contribute to disparities, including but not limited to reduced access to culturally and linguistically appropriate services. To overcome systemic barriers
that may contribute to disparities, practitioners must develop and deliver prevention interventions in ways that ensure members of diverse cultural groups benefit from these efforts.

Many health care stakeholders are developing initiatives to support cultural competence in the areas of health care policy, practice, and education. Cultural competence has emerged as an important issue for three practical reasons. First, as the United States becomes more diverse, practitioners will increasingly see people
with a broad range of perspectives on health, often influenced by their social or cultural backgrounds. Second, research has shown that provider-patient communication is linked to health outcomes. And third, two landmark Institute of Medicine (IOM) reports—Crossing the Quality Chasm and Unequal Treatment—highlight the importance of patient-centered care and cultural competence in improving quality and eliminating health disparities.

Over the past two years, SAMHSA’s Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (CAPT) has focused on supporting local-level practitioners funded under SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework Partnerships for Success grant program to understand and address behavioral health disparities in their communities, and to integrate cultural competence into this work. To support these efforts, the CAPT created a collection of
practical, “hands-on” tools and worksheets—presented here—to help Grantees:

  • Articulate the relationship between cultural competence, behavioral health disparities, and SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework
  • Use primary data collection methods to identify local disparities
  • Identify sub-populations in the community that are experiencing disparities
  • Build community readiness to address disparities
  • Apply the Enhanced National Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) standards
  • Create an action plan to address health disparities
  • Better understand how to address health disparities at the local level using a case example

Though these tools were originally developed for a specific set of grantees, all are relevant to and appropriate for use by practitioners working across behavioral health sectors. The hope is that they will serve as a starting point for forging new partnerships, raising awareness, and developing and delivering the interventions needed to eliminate behavioral health disparities in our communities.

Population of focus: Community based organizations, policy makers

Links to resource:

Date: 2016

Organization: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration