Oakland Mental Health Strategic Plan Town Hall Offers Strategies to Address Disparities

Author Details

Sarah de Guia

Outgoing Executive Director

Organization: California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Go to California Pan-Ethnic Health Network

Over 75 mental health advocates representing diverse communities in Oakland gathered today to provide feedback on the California Reducing Disparities Project’s (CRDP) Statewide Strategic Plan to Reduce Mental Health Disparities. The town hall meeting was the second of five organized by CPEHN, the plan’s author, as part of an ongoing 35-day public comment period that ends on February 17th. The room was buzzing with excited conversation and thoughtful engagement as small groups of advocates discussed ways to strengthen this one-of-a-kind strategic plan.

Most praised the work of the five Strategic Planning Workgroups whose reports on their respective populations – African Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Latinos, LGBTQ populations, and Native Americans – served as the basis for the strategic plan. Many participants felt the draft strategic plan is moving in the right direction and will provide an excellent framework for reducing mental health disparities. The consensus at the meeting was that California’s population, which is now over 60% communities of color, is far too diverse for a standard “one size fits all” approach to mental health. Many attendees stressed the importance of acknowledging subgroups within these communities and their specific needs. For example, Pacific Islander communities are typically grouped under the “Asian/Pacific Islander” category but have distinct needs from other Asian populations that are often overlooked. The variety of cultures and languages within the Asian American community was also raised as something that needs to be considered when increasing the capacity of the mental health workforce.

An interesting conversation occurred around the potential use of “cultural humility” instead of “cultural competence” when discussing how to prepare the mental health workforce to meet the needs of various communities. The point raised by participants is that cultural competency is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, and cultural humility suggests being humble and open to learn in order to better meet the needs of different cultures.

Upon leaving the event, many participants remarked that they were impressed by the caliber of the discussion, the commitment to getting this plan right, and the need for this type of ongoing conversation about mental health disparities. 

If you would like to join us for our upcoming meetings, please register here. Town hall meetings will be held next week on February 4th in San Diego and February 5th in Los Angeles, and in the far north on February 17th in Eureka. If you’re interested in the draft strategic plan or would like to provide comments, see our website for instructions.