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Three African American Leaders Making an Impact on Mental Health in the Community

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Date: February 25, 2019
Category: Mental Health

In 1976 President Gerald Ford honored the contributions of black Americans by issuing a proclamation that officially marked February as African American History Month. This proclamation continued to be issued by every president that followed. For the 2019 celebration, SAMHSA recognizes three leaders who have had significant impact on the mental health of their communities and beyond and have been important contributors to SAMHSA’s efforts to advance behavioral health equity for African Americans.

Each of these leaders has had a significant role in SAMHSA’s National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED). Operated by SAMHSA’s Office of Behavioral Health Equity (OBHE), the NNED is a network of over 1,000 community-based organizations that address the mental health and substance use needs of diverse racial and ethnic communities. The NNED supports information sharing, learning collaboratives, and technical assistance to build prevention and treatment capacity needed to improve behavioral health outcomes. Additionally, OBHE convenes the annual NNEDLearn training meeting. This meeting is designed to assist network organizations in developing the required skills and capacity for implementing selected evidence-based and culturally-adapted prevention and treatment practices.

Altha Stewart HeadshotAltha Stewart, MD, a key member of the NNED since 2009, continues to participate on the NNED Steering Committee. Dr. Stewart is a nationally recognized expert in the public sector, on issues in mental health care for minority populations, and in the effects of trauma violence on children. She is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Health in Justice-Involved Youth at the University of Tennessee. In May 2018, Dr. Stewart made history as she began her term as President of the American Psychiatric Association, making her the first African American to lead the organization. Her goals are to advance organized psychiatry’s role in responding to the social determinants of mental health and to be a leading voice for diversity and inclusion in medicine and mental health.

Dr. Gayle Porter headshotGayle Porter, PsyD, is the co-developer and trainer of the award-winning Prime-Time Sisters Circle (PDF | 2 MB) with Marilyn Gaston, MD, former assistant surgeon general. Prime-Time Sisters Circle is a theory-driven, empirically supported behavioral health intervention geared for middle-aged African American women. This course-based intervention is an integrated model of care that focuses on emotional health and risks; and promotes positive, healthy decision-making establishing social supports. Studies of the intervention have shown that participants were able to mitigate high-risk health behaviors. As a trainer at NNEDLearn, Dr. Porter has improved access to quality mental health care and linkage with primary care providers. Her work with the NNED was noted by a major insurance provider because of the significant changes in the primary and mental health conditions of women in the community.

Dr. Howard Stevenson headshot Howard Stevenson, PhD, professor at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Racial Empowerment Collaborative and the Forward Promise program, is the developer and trainer of Preventing Long-term Anger and Aggression in Youth (PLAAY). The intervention empowers youth, families and individuals to address the impact of trauma and chronic stress on African American boys. Offered at NNEDLearn, successful implementation of PLAAY has resulted in improved school attendance, reduced suspension rates and improved relationships among African American youth, their peers and teachers. The work in one school district has evolved into a national model for school and community- based mental health care for youth at risk for academic failure and juvenile justice involvement.

We are honored to collaborate with and recognize these leaders in the field.

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