By Roxana A. Hernandez, MPH, Shayla C. Anderson, MPH, CHES, Mary Roary, PhD, MBA – Office of Behavioral Health Equity
As we observe National Minority Health Month, this is a great time to share strategies on how to grow a more diverse and culturally competent behavioral health workforce capable of meeting the needs of our minority populations starting with our youth. Behavioral health desperately needs more culturally competent providers channeled into the profession who can understand the experiences of minorities. Many minority youth face some of the greatest disparities in behavioral health, which includes lacking access to providers familiar with their racial, cultural, and ethnic experiences. Minorities in general may not choose careers in behavioral health due to the stigma placed around behavioral health issues, financial disadvantages, limited access to mentors in the behavioral health workforce, and limited opportunities to explore careers in behavioral health. Through this blog, we offer valuable tips regarding how to cultivate the next generation of behavioral health professionals, especially for our schools, career/technical education programs, colleges/universities, community and civic organizations, faith-based institutions, and families.
Boost high school graduation rates, especially among Black (79%), Hispanic (81%), and American Indian/Alaska Natives (74%) who currently have rates below the U.S. average of 85%. Diversity and inclusivity in the racial and ethnic minority behavioral health workforce could be constrained by lower high school graduation rates among racial and ethnic minorities.
Enhance access to student support services (no cost tutoring programming), experiential learning opportunities (field research/field trips, gamification, and internships), alternative schooling, service-learning activities to immerse students into the local community by adding elements of leadership and empowerment, active learning (rather than passive). Boost career shadowing/experiences for racial/ethnic minorities by providing free after-school programs and activities (peer support groups, sports, reading/book clubs, debate club, garden club, financial literacy, etc.) and providing free nutritious meals as incentives. Enlist support from community schools, fraternities/sororities, community colleges, churches, and community-based organizations to prevent dropouts. A student’s learning experience can also serve as an opportunity to support a community organization in need of additional human resources.
Increase public awareness of and interest in pursuing behavioral health careers (psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse specialist, substance abuse counselor, social worker, licensed professional counselor, pastoral counselor, school counselor, behavioral health educators, promotors, etc.) among racial/ethnic minority parents, caregivers and students through radios, social media (TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), public service announcements, and career fairs.
Launch public awareness campaigns using culturally appropriate language and imagery to gain interest among minority youth and to eliminate stigma surrounding the behavioral health profession. Develop messaging and disseminate through social media, television, YouTube, radio, and other platforms to engage youth and their families. Using culturally appropriate messaging will assist with better engaging the interest of minority youth for behavioral health careers. Public awareness campaigns can assist in building the relationships needed to empower our next generation of diverse, culturally competent behavioral health professionals.
Provide access to diverse mentors in the behavioral health profession.
Establish mentorship opportunities through an app, social media groups, and networks focused geographically and/or by racial/ethnic minority populations. Get creative and define the audience using psychographic segmentation techniques (behaviors, personalities, lifestyles, and beliefs). For example, ‘Chicanas Living in New York Interested/Working in Behavioral Health.’ Create opportunities for youth to job shadow and gain internship opportunities in behavioral health. Link up with civic, fraternal, sororities, and professional organizations in your local community, region, and state who may have behavioral health professionals with interests in cultivating the next generation of our behavioral health workforce. Some credentialing bodies offer continuing education units (CEUs) for mentorship and/or internship supervision. This could be a draw to behavioral health professionals with an interest in mentorship also looking to gain additional CEUs. Ensure that mentors provide youth with relatable information about pursuing behavioral health careers. Youth should learn about applying to college, graduate, or professional schools, salary attainment, and expectations. Be sure not to exclude non-minority behavioral health professionals who are allies and have a passion for growing a more diverse behavioral health workforce.
Promote college-level credit opportunities through an accelerated behavioral health training program, implement statewide high school behavioral health career and technical education training programs, and offer expanded behavioral health career training programs through community colleges.
Provide greater access for high school students to start taking college-level courses for credit or begin taking high school-level classes that can broaden their perspectives of the behavioral health field. Offer behavioral health focused learning tracks for college-bound students and for non-college bound students through career/technical education training programs. Consider partnerships with local community colleges to establish career/technical programs that lead to entry-level behavioral health careers and certifications.
Provide information on financial resources to apply to behavioral health programs, placement test-taking tutors, and take minority students to visit colleges and universities.
Consider collaborating with philanthropic organizations and others who support income-disadvantaged students with going to college and achieving their career aspirations. Leverage relationships with behavioral health organizations to create opportunities such as providing mini scholarships for college placement tests, college tours, and SAT/ACT exam tests for minority students with behavioral health career interests. Create opportunities to get students on college/university campuses for overnight or weekend visits to experience what is like to be in the higher education learning environment.
Work on a strategic career plan with high school students based on their interests to pursue a behavioral health field career.
Support youth in setting their own career goals and plans. Connect their career goals with opportunities to learn more about careers in behavioral health. Build partnerships with community-based organizations, philanthropic and civic organizations, and behavioral health professionals to educate youth about how they can achieve their personal career goals. Connect minority youth with part-time job opportunities that may provide insight into future behavioral health careers. Bringing their career goals and plans to life could spark their interests in behavioral health and potentially create an opportunity to support this work as a teen or young adult. These are gateways into a future behavioral health career and students can earn money while studying for their behavioral health career.
Here are some of SAMHSA’s resources in both English and Spanish, including items created to address racial/ethnic minority populations: