BSFT® Program News : 2016 : November

BSFT Leadership Offers Innovation to Mental Health Services for Black Males

Jared Cotta
Bethesda, MD

The BSFT Institute’s Executive Director, Joan Muir, Ph.D., is an advocate for improving health equity disparities. In August, she was invited to contribute her expertise to a work group assembled by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), to address significant healthcare issues facing African American men and boys.
The Director of SAMHSA, Larke Huang, Ph.D. delivered a personal welcome for this conference, titled “Pathways to Behavioral Health Equity: Practice Innovations for Addressing Health Disparities Experienced by Boys and Men in Communities of Color.” Dr. Huang offered SAMHSA’s support to the group of educators, researchers, psychologists, and community activists that were all motivated to see improved mental health outcomes for African American males.
The BSFT Institute is a national purveyor of the evidence-based BSFT model which serves troubled youth and their families. The model is delivered to many African American adolescents. Research on the BSFT model shows positive changes to family functioning, particularly with Latino and African American families. Dr. Muir presented about the challenges of uptake and dissemination of BSFT. She also brought attention to the demand for greater cultural competence among mental health providers. Finally, she led the conversation about how to build more generationally relevant approaches within mental health services. The conference encouraged introspective evaluation of the current state of behavioral healthcare. Dr. Muir felt that the intensity and passion of the group was elevated due to recent killings of unarmed African Americans men.
Dr. Muir and the other national stakeholders worked together to share program innovations targeted to boys and men of color. Focusing on this demographic group is vital because the group as a whole has been underserved for over a century. Thankfully, changes to mental health practice seem to be on the horizon. Under the Obama administration’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, attention has finally been paid to the severity of institutional and policy-driven healthcare disparities. Interestingly enough, some of the newest and freshest practices are being fueled by grassroots community organizations. The collection of Kappa Programs by Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity was perhaps the most impressive according to Dr. Muir. The Guide Right initiative in particular has already seen impressive results from offering personal mentorship to black youth. According to Dr. Muir the most eye-opening innovations are definitely coming from the grass roots campaigns that target black youth. Dr. Muir commented that “grassroots activity needs to be scaled up to a national level, because they are very successful.”
Looking back, Dr. Muir described the SAMHSA conference as the “two most productive days (she’s) ever experienced,” with regards to this healthcare issue. She was impressed that the attendees were disproportionately African American men. Dr. Muir admired the fact that these individuals had risen to significant prominence despite the many obstacles confronting them, attributing this to the “resiliency of black males.” She lamented however, that there is a significant lack of recognition for community members that are working hard to make a difference in our nation. Dr. Muir admits “that the African American men that are achieving great things are not highlighted enough”
Giving attention to the mental well-being of boys and men of color is refreshing. Issues such as expanding capacity and developing culturally appropriate interventions are gaining traction among larger mental healthcare providers. Creating opportunities to discuss these issues, shows a commitment by the federal government to correct a long history of inadequate service to this population. Dr. Muir is optimistic that improving mental health among boys and men of color will create happier and healthier communities.