A Letter From the Director

Welcome to the Culture and Mental Health Disparities

Highlights from the past year

We have had a busy and productive year at the lab Culture and Mental Health Disparities (CMHD), now located in the Department of Psychological Sciences at University of Connecticut. Last year, the CMHD included 7 excellent doctoral students in clinical psychology, pursuing research and clinical training related to mental health disparities under my direct supervision. Also involved in our work are 3 additional doctoral students (2 at Spalding University and 1 at Nova Southeast University), 2 MA-level research assistants, and 4 undergraduates from the A&S Departments of Psychological and Brain Science, Sociology, and Pan African Studies. In 2015, the CMHD published 12 scholarly articles, with an additional 10 accepted for publication in 2016. Our students presented 12 posters at scientific conferences, 2 students gave talks, and faculty presented at 3 different conferences. We also started a refugee mental health clinical at the UofL medical center.

We launch into 2016-2017 with a renewed commitment to combatting mental health disparities in all of its forms.

What is a mental health disparity?

If a health outcome is seen in a greater or lesser extent between different populations, there is disparity. Mental health disparities may be observed between groups with respect to the quality, accessibility, and outcomes of mental health care. Although the term “disparities” often is interpreted to mean racial or ethnic disparities, many dimensions of disparity exist in the United States. For example, people may experience a mental health disparity due to gender, religion, sexual orientation, or the nature of their ailment.

What causes mental health disparities?

There are many forms of disparities, including economic disparities, educational disparities, disparities in the workforce, health disparities, and, more specifically, mental health disparities. All these disparities are interconnected. For example, a disadvantaged group member may have fewer educational opportunities (educational disparity) that leads to a less prestigious job post-graduation (workforce disparity), which in turn leads to decreased income (economic disparity), leading to reduced access to medical services and poorer health outcomes (health disparity).

There is one example if this dynamic that hits particularly close to home. Only 5% of psychology doctorates are awarded to Black Americans, which represents an enormous educational disparity, given the population of Blacks in the US is 12.6%. This, in turn, results in a workforce disparity in terms of African American psychologists available for clinical service and academic positions. As African Americans are more likely to teach and study conditions pertinent to African Americans, the workforce disparity results in fewer scholars available to educate clinicians in mental health issues relevant to that population. For example, in 2015 I was pleased to be the first minority female to receive a tenure in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Louisville in its 108 year history. However, the lack of additional minority faculty perpetuates a lack of knowledge about psychological issues as they pertain to ethnic and racial minorities, leading to mental health disparities on multiple levels (i.e., study recruitment, research findings, knowledge of effective interventions, etc.). Nationwide, only 4% of full-time professors are Blacks, and only 1.5% of APA members are Black.

What is the CMHD doing to address mental health disparities?

Mental health disparities are caused by many factors. Here are few we are studying at the CMHD:

In addition to research in these areas, the CMHD continues to offer workshops aimed at training the next generation of clinicians in culturally competent assessment and treatment techniques. We aim to change the current psychological landscape through cutting-edge, culturally-informed research. We are proud of the work we have done to date and invite you to join with us in our mission to eliminate mental health disparities.

Monnica T. Williams, Ph.D., Director
Lab for Culture and Mental Health Disparities
Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences
University of Connecticut