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The Importance of Diversity in the Mental Health Field

Jun 28, 2024

July marks Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, a crucial time to recognize and address the unique mental health challenges faced by minority communities. One of the most significant factors influencing the effectiveness of mental health care is the diversity of the providers themselves. Diverse mental health professionals are essential not only for improving client outcomes but also for breaking down longstanding stigmas associated with mental health in various cultures.

Why Are Diverse Mental Health Professionals Important?

Having mental health professionals from diverse backgrounds allows clients to connect with someone who shares similar ethnic or cultural experiences.

“We know from client-serving data that clients are better able to establish rapport with providers if they feel safe and if they feel like they can connect with that person through shared experiences,” said Carrie Dean, Human Resources Talent Manager. “Because of this trust, they are more likely to be more fully engaged in the treatment processes.”

The presence of diverse professionals can make a significant difference, especially in cultures where there is a higher percentage of stigma surrounding mental health compared to the general public. Linguistics contribute to the stigma, as well – in many languages, mental health may not even have a direct translation.

“I’ve had new hires come through orientation and say, ‘There’s no word for mental health in my language,’” said Dunleavy. “It’s a language, an attitude, a cultural lens. And then when you add on top of that the barriers experienced by gender, socioeconomic status, et cetera, it can be quite challenging.”

People Incorporated’s Commitment to Diversity Through the Pathways Career Development Program

Pathways at People IncorporatedPeople Incorporated recognizes the critical need for diversity in the mental health field and is actively working to promote and encourage it through various initiatives, including the Pathways career development program. This program creates career pathways that allow individuals to move into leadership positions without requiring an advanced degree. By removing barriers that have historically impeded BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities, People Incorporated is fostering an environment where diverse professionals can thrive and advance.

Kathryn Dunleavy, Program Manager of Pathways, encounters many cohort participants through Pathways who are working towards a career in mental health. Many of them come from underrepresented backgrounds and express a desire to increase representation and reduce barriers.

“One is a Muslim woman, and she told me that there were no Muslim women available when she went to go get counseling,” said Dunleavy. “She said, ‘I want to be that person for others.’”

Another way People Incorporated fosters diversity is through a recruiting team that is reflective of the communities we serve. At career fairs, the diversity of the representatives at our booths mirrors the diversity we aim to achieve within the workforce. This visibility is crucial for attracting potential employees from underrepresented backgrounds.

Additionally, People Incorporated sends out job position email blasts to over 60 different community organizations, ranging from the Hmong American Partnership to the American Indian Council. This broad outreach ensures that job opportunities are visible to diverse populations who might otherwise be underrepresented in the mental health workforce.

People Incorporated is making broader changes to support equity, such as increasing the minimum wage to $20 per hour. This move helps remove socioeconomic barriers that disproportionately affect BIPOC communities. By providing a livable wage and advertising public service loan forgiveness programs, People Incorporated is making it easier for individuals from diverse backgrounds to pursue and sustain careers in mental health.

Challenges and Continued Efforts

The workforce at-large is currently experiencing major challenges that affect these efforts.

“The Minnesota economy is doing pretty well, and we continue to add jobs to the economy without adding a lot of new workers to the workforce,” said Dean. “There are more jobs than there are workers available. The numbers game is not in our favor.”

To address these challenges, People Incorporated is proactive in reaching out to young people at the high school level. By participating in career fairs and emphasizing the various opportunities available within the mental health field, we aim to inspire the next generation of diverse mental health professionals.

The importance of diverse representation in the mental health field cannot be overstated. It improves client outcomes, reduces stigma, and builds trust within communities. As we celebrate Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, we acknowledge and continue these vital efforts towards a more diverse and equitable mental health care system.