PS 041: Cultural Awareness In Diagnosing Mental Disorders

William B. Lawson (M.D.) is the Associate Dean for health disparities at the Dell Medical School and Professor at Huston-Tillotson where he is directing the Sandra Joy Anderson Community Health and Wellness Center. He received a BS in psychology from Howard University, an MA from the University of Virginia, and PhD in Psychology from the University of New Hampshire.  He received his MD from the Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago. He completed his residency at Stanford University and a fellowship at the National Institute of Mental Health.  He has held numerous senior positions and received national recognition including past President of the DC chapter of Mental Health America, Past President of the Washington Psychiatric Society, past Chair of the Section of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences of the National Medical Association, and past president of the Black Psychiatrists of America. He has over 200 publications and has continuously received federal, industry, and foundation funding to address mental and substance abuse disparities.

Increased cultural awareness is needed to increase diagnostic accuracy. This is important because we recognize that there is a positive correlation between an accurate diagnosis and positive treatment outcomes. Research suggests that there are no substantial differences in diagnostic categories among races when using proven diagnostic instruments or assessment tools. However, clinical results show that African-American men are over-diagnosed with schizophrenia, but this same group is under-diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.   Often, this is the result of a lack of cultural awareness by the diagnostician.

Working cooperatively with others is imperative if we want to help the diverse populations suffering from chronic mental health conditions. This includes police, hospital staff, mental health professionals, clergy, family members, and volunteers.  We can improve diagnostic accuracy by improving mental health literacy, and that’s what Psych Sessions is all about! – Jimmie

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