Rachèle Yadon, MD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine. Along with serving on the faculty, she is a diversity and inclusion ambassador. In this role, she is charged with developing more equitable practices and leading these efforts in her department.

July is Mental Health Awareness Month for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), raising awareness to the unique mental health challenges of historically disenfranchised racial and ethnic groups. Dr. Yadon explains more about these disparities and how health care systems can address these needs.

Q: What made you want to become a diversity and inclusion ambassador?

A: Looking back, I’ve been passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion work since early in my training. I was a sociology major in college and was interested in racial and gender identity, prejudice and discrimination, and learning to see and understand the connections between broad social forces and individual experiences. Learning about health care disparities in particular and seeing how they impacted my community firsthand were the key motivators for pursuing a career in medicine.

Now, as a diversity ambassador, I get to share that passion with my department. I love coming to work every day knowing that I get to be a part of creating spaces of safety and belonging for each other and for our patients. As a clinical supervisor and an associate residency training program director, I get to help shape clinical practice and resident training towards awareness of biases and disparities. It’s the work I hadn’t realized I always wanted to do, and I find it deeply fulfilling.

Q: Do you have any goals for the College of Medicine Department of Psychiatry you hope to accomplish during your time as ambassador?

A: Yes! So many goals! We’re a very interdisciplinary department, but we are based away from the main campus, and this can leave us somewhat disconnected from the rest of the University. I’d like to help create bridges between our efforts here and the DEI work being done throughout UK. I also think that with the nature of our work in mental health, psychiatry gets to care for some of the most vulnerable people in our community. A major goal of mine is to work to recruit and retain residents, staff, and faculty who bring diverse experiences to psychiatry and are open to listening to the needs of our patients. I plan to continue growing our annual departmental Diversity and Inclusion Day and, through it, bring in speakers to promote an ongoing culture of awareness and accountability. Lastly, I’m working with the National Anti-racism in Medicine Curriculum Coalition and believe that the resources we’re creating together can be an asset to medical education in the College of Medicine going forward.

Q: What types of mental health disparities exist for racially underrepresented patients?

A: That is a very big question and one that I can’t adequately answer in a succinct way. Black, Indigenous, and people of color experience different mental health disparities based on the intersectionality of their individual and group experiences. Socioeconomic status, gender, and sexual identity, physical ability, language, religion, location… all come with different implications for oppression, discrimination, and persecution experienced. With them come different disparities and different needs. We do know that due to the varied and persistent individual and multi-generational traumas experienced, those in BIPOC communities are at an elevated risk of developing mental health difficulties. Finding understanding mental health support and getting access to that support are too often major barriers to care. For those looking for resources or wanting to learn more, I recommend Mental Health America. They offer great mental health disparity overviews, resources to support vulnerable communities, and information about public policies. BIPOC Mental Health | Mental Health America (mhanational.org)

Q: How can mental health treatment and access be delivered to those who need it most?

A: Individually, we can work towards reduced barriers by becoming aware of and addressing our own biases, growing in our cultural competency, and working towards making spaces and resources accessible to all who need them. Telehealth mental health services have had a significant impact on improving access to mental health care. To get treatment and access to those who need it most, we need to support development of public policies that enforce parity for mental health, expand coverage of mental health services, provide ongoing telehealth flexibilities, and promote integrated mental health care with primary care.

Q: Do you have anything you would like to add?

A: I think as we think about the mental health of our patients, it’s easy to forget that we need to start with ourselves. If we are struggling, it is often too much to also hold space for our patients’ pain. I know that on a level, we all know this but it bears repeating: It’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to ask for help. Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can.