Position Statement on Culturally Competent and Linguistically Appropriate Mental Health Services

The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD) recognizes that state mental health agencies face a growing challenge to accommodate an increasingly diverse constituency for mental health services nationwide. The provision of culturally and linguistically appropriate and accessible mental health services regardless of race, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, national origin, language, religion or socioeconomic status challenges state mental health agencies to develop, expand, and evaluate effective, culturally competent services and treatment methods.

As the U.S. population changes dramatically, so does the mental health system consumer base. Public mental health systems and staff may be unprepared for differences in language, cultural perspective, traditions, perceptions about mental illness and preferences for services and supports. For example, more than 1 in 4 Americans are non-white and/or Latino, but by the year 2050, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that nearly 1 in 2 Americans will be so. New and changing cultural perspectives, emerging cultural groups, and the growing realization that cultural identity contributes in essential ways to mental well-being require new attention to the need for culturally appropriate mental health services.

Members of ethnic, racial, linguistic, and culturally diverse groups are often underserved or inappropriately served by the public mental health system. Culturally competent and appropriate services can: reduce inappropriate diagnoses; increase the utilization of mental health services by population groups that traditionally underutilize services; and change perceived negative encounters that are often experienced by population groups that seek treatment from systems that often do not provide culturally sensitive and competent services. It is, therefore, in the best interest of both mental health consumers and the public mental health system which serves them, that culturally competent services be consistently available, accessible and effective.

In recognition of this fact, NASMHPD supports states in their ongoing efforts to become more culturally competent in the provision of mental health services to ethnic, racial, linguistic, and culturally diverse populations. Services to these individuals should be based on concepts, policies, and procedures that provide a voice and choice; they should be flexible, individualized, and promote respect, dignity, and recovery. NASMHPD fully supports States' efforts to recruit and retain mental health professionals and paraprofessionals who can both represent these groups and understand their mental health needs and deliver the most effective methods of successfully responding to them.

NASMHPD is committed to working with states, representatives of culturally diverse communities and all care providers to explore ways to improve services and supports for these mental health consumers and their families. These efforts may include, but are not limited to: developing and disseminating information and technical assistance on best practices in culturally competent services; providing forums for state and national dialogues on the need for and effective provision of culturally competent mental health services; and cooperating with other State and national organizations to develop research, education, training and performance-based initiatives to ensure the provision of culturally competent mental health services.

Adopted by unanimous vote of the NASMHPD membership on June 6, 2000.