Specific Populations

Learn about the unique mental health and substance use issues faced by different U.S. population groups and how SAMHSA addresses them.


A critical component of SAMHSA’s public health mission is to understand and meet the unique mental health and substance use needs of the nation’s different population groups. SAMHSA’s offices and centers provide data, programs, and technical assistance tailored to specific populations for several reasons, including:

  • To uncover and address the differing needs of individuals with behavioral health conditions based on their age, gender, race and ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation
  • To be respectful of different groups’ health beliefs, practices, and cultural and language needs
  • To improve access, quality, and outcomes of care among different population groups
  • To improve participation among different population groups in the behavioral health workforce

Learn how SAMHSA works to increase awareness and action on behavioral health issues facing different population groups in the United States:

Cultural and Linguistic Competency

People typically think of culture in terms of race or ethnicity, but culture also refers to other characteristics such as age, gender, and geographical location.

Behavioral health care practitioners can bring about positive change by understanding the cultural and linguistic context of the community, and be willing and prepared to work within that context. This means incorporating community-based values, traditions, and customs into work plans and project evaluations.

SAMHSA urges practitioners to consider culture and language at every step as they use SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework (SPF) and National Standards on Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS Standards) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Offices of Minority Health.

The SAMHSA Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies (CAPT) is a national substance use prevention training and technical assistance system that helps SAMHSA-funded grantees successfully implement all five steps of the SPF. CAPT lists the elements of a culturally competent prevention system.

For additional guidelines on how providers can offer culturally relevant services, refer to the SAMHSA-Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Center for Integrated Health Solutions.

SAMHSA’s Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI) emphasizes the key role faith-based and community organizations play in the delivery of substance use prevention, addiction treatment, and mental health services, particularly to underserved communities and culturally diverse populations. Learn more about SAMHSA’s FBCI programs and training.

Learn more from other SAMHSA publications and resources related to cultural and linguistic awareness and competency.

Behavioral Health Equity

The goal is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental health disorders on populations that experience behavioral health disparities by improving access to quality services and supports. OBHE aims to coordinate agency efforts to reduce behavioral health disparities among diverse populations in the United States. Learn more about how SAMHSA addresses behavioral health disparities on the Health Disparities topic.

Behavioral Health Workforce

The United States faces challenges in recruiting, training, and retaining a diverse behavioral health workforce that shares many of the same cultural and language characteristics of the people it serves, by hiring a diverse leading team of experts who acknowledge and adapt to diverse cultures and beliefs, SAMHSA is Serving the Needs of Diverse Populations. A lack of education about or sensitivity to these characteristics can impact the quality and level of care. Learn more about how SAMHSA addresses behavioral health workforce issues on the Workforce topic.

Last Updated: 12/11/2018