The Challenge of Health Disparities
Posted on October 19, 2007
Improving access to services for African Americans requires commitment, states Charles F. Reynolds III (bio).
Now, there are some challenges that we face and will continue to face in this line of work. For an example, it is particularly challenging and particularly important to address disparities of access to mental health service research for older African American. This is a very important challenge because if you are old, if you are African American and if you are depressed, you have a much less chance of having your depression recognized and appropriately treated than if you are an older white American. This is an important disparity. The former Surgeon General David Satcher in his work was the best Surgeon General that we in mental health have ever had, really taught the field a great deal about the importance that culture counts. So as investigators we’re committed to helping reduce these terrible disparities.
We need to learn more about how people from different cultural groups, different socio-economic statuses in life, different racial and ethnic groups, how do they understand depression? Their understanding of depression may be very different from my understanding of depression as a biomedical research scientist. For example, an older black American may see depression not as an illness but largely, say, as a spiritual concern or a spiritual crisis. So how do I honor that belief? How do I honor that belief and engage such a person in effective treatment? What might be effective treatment for him or her as well as treatment that is true to the biomedical science base that we have in this field?
That’s an important challenge that we face. We can’t meet that challenge unless we’re willing to leave our laboratories and work with people in the community. Understand what they mean by depression. Understand what kinds of interventions would be acceptable to them. If we do that we can meet this challenge.