Two thousand public-health experts-including physicians, psychologists and government officials-gathered in Washington, D.C., Jan. 9-11 to discuss ways to lessen the health disparities between majority and minority racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Featured speakers at the conference, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), included HHS Assistant Secretary for Health John O. Agwunobi, MD, and University of California, Los Angeles, psychology professor Vickie M. Mays, PhD, who participated in a plenary session on multiculturalism and limited English proficiency.
"Health disparities affect every aspect of a person's life. They affect one economically, they affect one emotionally, they affect one physically," notes conference participant Angela M. Neal-Barnett, PhD, a Kent State University psychology professor. "If we can work even harder to eliminate the disparities, if we can take programs that are working and have them generalize to the United States' population at large, it will makes us a better nation."
Neal-Barnett presented her research on anxiety disorders among black women during one of the conference's mental health-focused sessions. Black women experience disproportionately high rates of panic attacks, and are less likely than people from other groups to seek help, she said.
A key to bridging that gap is to mimic the traditional social networks found among many groups of black women, said Neal-Barnett. To this end, Neal-Barnett is developing a six- to eight-week program called "Sister Circles," which aims to provide a supportive environment for black women to discuss their anxiety and to learn how to handle panic attacks. Discussions are facilitated by a psychologist or other trained mental health professional, says Neal-Barnett.
Also at the conference, HHS released its 2005 national health-care disparities report, which provides a national overview of health disparities among different ethnic and racial groups. See next month's Monitor for in-depth coverage of the findings.