Honoring National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

This is a cross-post from the National Partnership for Action, a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 

Since 2008, July has been recognized as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, providing an opportunity to explore issues concerning mental health and substance use disorders in our communities. As a 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) illustrates, substance abuse and mental illness remain intricately linked.  In 2001, approximately 42 percent of adults who reported substance use within the last year – or 8 million out 18.9 million – also reported suffering from a mental illness as well.[i] In light of these staggering numbers it is important that we join with our many partners to raise awareness about substance use disorders and mental health, and to provide resources to support individuals, families, and communities across the Nation.

A priority of the Obama Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy (Strategy) is to reduce the demand for drugs significantly through effective prevention, intervention, treatment, and recovery support. Looking closely at the NSDUH data, we can see trends in drug use among various ethnic and cultural groups and in different geographic regions. These trends compel us to seek approaches tailored to specific groups and parts of the country. For example, among persons aged 12 or older in 2011, American Indians or Alaska Natives had the highest rates of illicit drug use (13.4 percent), followed by Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders (11 percent).[ii]

While the Federal Government plays a vital role in developing policies, these broad approaches only work if they meet the needs of local communities.


Encouraging our family and friends to live free of the influence of substance abuse is one of the most important steps we can take. Drug Free Communities coalitions are a crucial component to prevention.  By bringing together the various sectors of a community to address substance use and working with schools, parent groups, businesses, youth, and others, these coalitions implement environmental strategies to raise awareness of the consequences associated with drug and alcohol use. Coalitions also provide access to resources to help individuals and families affected by substance use disorders. You can learn more about what coalitions are doing in communities around the country and in your state at http://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/state-map.

There are a number of tools available to assist communities with assessment, planning, implementation, and outcome evaluation of substance abuse prevention programs. One such tool, the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), is a searchable database of programs shown to be effective at helping community leaders select target populations. For example, there are more than 70 substance abuse prevention programs for assisting Latino youth, more than 40 for helping Native American youth, and others designed specifically for girls.


In 2011, only about 11 percent of those with a diagnosable substance use disorder received treatment at a specialty facility. Effective treatment models incorporate features such as trauma-informed care, developmentally appropriate interventions, and culturally and linguistically sensitive practices. You can find more information on principles of effective treatment and how to integrate them into practice in Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide, provided by the National Institutes of Health. To find a treatment program in your community, you can search SAMHSA’s interactive Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator.


Millions of people are successfully in recovery from substance use disorders, working hard to reclaim their lives and positively contributing to their families and communities. Building a strong network of peers, family, and professionals is key, and helps communities promote cultural mores and norms that promote improved health and wellness for everyone. For more information on building a recovery supportive community, visit the Partners for Recovery page on SAMHSA’s website.

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month provides a catalyst to highlight the link between mental health, substance abuse, and minority communities, but let us all make mental health and substance use disorder services a priority throughout the year; to help empower individuals, strengthen families, and save lives. With dedication and focus, and the support of our family, friends, and neighbors, we can work together to make a difference for those who know the challenges of substance use disorders, and continue to face them.

David K. Mineta is the Deputy Director of the Office of Demand Reduction (ODR) for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Ben Ray Luján is a United States Congressman representing New Mexico's 3rd district.


[i] Figure 4.2 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental Health Findings, NSDUH Series H-45, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4725. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012

[ii] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-44, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 12-4713. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2012. Figure 2.11


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