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Director’s Innovation Speaker Series: Addressing Ethnoracial Disparities in Mental Health Risk, Assessment, and Service Delivery


June 22, 2021




Roberto Lewis-Fernández, M.D. , reviewed key areas in need of research on cultural and ethnoracial disparities in mental health conditions and services.

The first priority area is risk, including how social processes such as discrimination become embodied and lead to individual mental/emotional pathology, and the role of intersecting community- and person-level factors in the development of mental health disparities.

Second, he discussed the need for research on assessment, such as the importance of person-centered clinical evaluation in disparities reduction – including the need to assess both socio-structural and cultural determinants of health – and novel strategies for addressing the implicit provider biases that lead to lower-quality care.

Third, he discussed research on service delivery, such as the contributions to disparity reduction of practice-based evidence and community-level interventions, and the opportunities and challenges of technology-based approaches to mental health care delivery.

Throughout the presentation, Dr. Lewis-Fernández suggested future directions for disparities-focused mental health research, including examples from current approaches conducted at the NYSPI Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence and other disparities-focused research groups.


Read transcript.

About Dr. Lewis-Fernández

Dr. Lewis-Fernández is a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and director of the New York State Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence and the Hispanic Treatment Program, and co-director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic, at New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI). Dr. Lewis- Fernández’s research focuses on developing culturally valid interventions to enhance patient engagement, reduce misdiagnosis, and help overcome disparities in the care of underserved cultural and ethnoracial groups. He led the development of the DSM-5 Cultural Formulation Interview, a standardized cultural assessment protocol for routine mental health care.

About the Director’s Innovation Speaker Series

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) established the Director’s Innovation Speaker Series to encourage broad, interdisciplinary thinking in the development of scientific initiatives and programs, and to press for theoretical leaps in science over the continuation of incremental thought. Innovation speakers are encouraged to describe their work from the perspective of breaking through existing boundaries and developing successful new ideas, as well as working outside their primary area of expertise in ways that have pushed their fields forward. We encourage discussions of the meaning of innovation, creativity, breakthroughs, and paradigm-shifting.

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