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SAMHSA’s Award-Winning Newsletter
January/February 2010, Volume 18, Number 1 

Cultural Competency Matters

When they applied for a SAMHSA Campus Suicide Prevention Grant for Tufts University, Michelle Bowdler, M.S.P.H., and Bonnie Lipton, M.P.H., already had cultural competency on their minds.

"As an institution, Tufts really values diversity," said Ms. Bowdler, Senior Director of Health and Wellness Services. The university operates six culture centers:

  • Asian/Asian American Center
  • LGBTQ Center
  • Latino Center
  • Women’s Center
  • Africana Center
  • International Center.

Each center has a full-time director.

photo of female student making a poster

Tufts University students celebrate "Mental Health Awareness Week."

"When we wrote the grant proposal, we informed the center directors about our plans for cultural competency focus groups," said Ms. Lipton, Program Coordinator and Evaluator for Tufts Community Cares. "We asked them what mental health topics would resonate with their students."

Focus Groups

In spring 2009, Tufts held focus groups with each center, speaking to more than 50 students in total.

"We wanted to learn more about what mental health issues students are facing, how they cope, who they turn to for help, and what else the university can do to help," Ms. Lipton said.

Focus group questions related to five different areas:

  • Perceptions regarding student mental health problems on campus
  • Attitudes about informal help-seeking
  • Attitudes about counseling services
  • Beliefs about helping peers
  • Ideas for enhancing help-seeking behavior for mental health problems.

All six groups discussed how much stress students experience. "Tufts is a rigorous school, so the students are under a lot of academic stress," Ms. Lipton said. "They also may feel they need to compete with their classmates."

photo of two female students displaying a poster

Tufts University students celebrate "Mental Health Awareness Week."

Generating New Programs

As a result of this feedback, Tufts Community Cares sponsored stress management sessions at the Africana Center during finals in fall 2009. More sessions are planned, focusing on ways students can take better care of themselves, such as getting enough sleep and reducing barriers to asking for help.

"The focus groups allowed us to talk to students about what their culture, race, ethnicity, or religion might lead them to think about mental health care," Ms. Bowdler said. "That information is helping us to create programs and products that will be effective for suicide prevention."

For example, the Latino Center will hold a discussion with first-generation students about their experiences. Planning is under way for discussions open to all first-generation students at Tufts.

In addition, some members of the Asian American focus group expressed concern about how positive and negative stereotypes affect them. A general presentation and another focusing on women’s mental health will be held in spring 2010.

Changing Perceptions

The focus groups had another positive effect on the students. In their evaluations, many students indicated that the discussion helped make them more willing to talk to someone.

Ms. Bowdler feels that Tufts is on the right track. “The simple act of inquiring how to respond to the needs of a specific community helps people feel more comfortable asking for help.”

Visit the Tufts University Health Service.

Photos courtesy of Tufts University

  Cover Story & Related Articles  

Parity: Landmark Legislation Takes Effect

  Suicide Prevention   
Grantee Highlights

Grantee Highlights

Read about activities at Tufts University and Penn State Altoona.

  A Visit to SAMHSA  

  Underage Drinking  
Game Helps Parents & Children Talk about Alcohol

Game Helps Parents & Children Talk about Alcohol

An interactive way for families to discuss the dangers of underage drinking.

State Prevention Videos

State Prevention Videos

Videos describe unique challenges and successes.

  This Emotional Life  
PBS Documentary Launches Campaign of Hope

PBS Documentary Launches Campaign of Hope

Web site includes toolkits for parents and military families.

  Teens & Young Adults  
Violent Behaviors among Teen Girls

Violent Behaviors & Teen Girls

You may think only boys get into fights. Think again . . .

Drinking after 21st Birthday

Drinking after 21st Birthday

Does turning 21 affect the amount of alcohol young people drink?

  Treatment Roundup   
Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities

Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities

Characteristics of alcohol and drug abuse treatment services.

Providing E-Therapy

Providing E-Therapy

Considerations for providers incorporating technology into treatment!

Heroin Admissions

Heroin Admissions

Find out about adolescents who received treatment for heroin use.

  Recovery Month  
Now More Than Ever

Now More Than Ever

Updated Recovery Month Web site includes new theme, Web banners, and a blog.

  In Memoriam  
Remembering Judi Chamberlin

Remembering Judi Chamberlin

SAMHSA honors a courageous advocate for the fundamental rights and dignity of people with mental illnesses.

  Also in This Issue  
National Registry Offers New Feature

National Registry Search

Evidence-based programs and comparative effectiveness.

Older Adults & Illicit Drug Use

Older Adults & Illicit Drug Use

More people over age 50 are using illicit drugs.

Science and Service Awards

Science and Service Awards

Call for applications due April 9.

Community Prevention Day

Community Prevention Day

Prevention professionals gathered for the annual event.


Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration – 1 Choke Cherry Road – Rockville, MD 20857
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