Several directors of mental health centers and organizations for ethnic minorities yesterday accused President Carter Commission on Mental Health of taking the wrong approach to mental health problems of minorities.
At a conference held by the National Coalition of Hispanic Mental Health and Human Services Organizations, participants among the group of 12 criticized the President's commission during quentioning of its director, Dr. Thomas Bryant.
The critics said the commission, appointed last April to make recommendations and disband in a year, is flawed in its composition as well as in the way that it has addressed ethic concerns.
Some participants said the commission has not adequately considered the relationship between unemployment, education, economic class divisions and other societal factors as causes of metal illness.
"This is not a minority issue. This is a national problem when you consider the social and economic costs to society (of mental health problems among ethnic groups)," said Esteben Olmedo, director of a Los Angeles center for Spanish-speaking groups.
Bryant defended the commission, which was born of a campaign promise and First Lady Rosalynn Carter's interest in mental health. It is "the most diverse, most broadly based presidential commission I know of," Bryant said.
Bryant gave an exhaustively detailed report on the Commission's progress. The 20-member group, including six minority members and supported by $850,000 in U.S. funds, has set up about 25 "task panels" of citizens and mental health experts to examine a wide range of concerns, he said.
Bryant said specialized subgroups are studying the extent of mental health problems, current treatment systems, the future of federally supported Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC's), research, prevention and legal asepcts. An additional panental health concerns of the handicapped, women and minorities, he said.
The commission will deliver a preliminary report to President Carter on Sept. 1, and its final report by April 1, 1978, Bryant said.
The September report will not include information on the CMHC's, products of an 11-year-old federal laws directed the replacement of large state mental hospitals with community-based treatment centers.
Approximately 600 community centers, out of the 1,500 projected in the 1966 legislation, have cost $1.5 billion in federal funds. Congress, having extended the CMHC's authorizing measure twice, has scheduled hearings on their effectiveness for November, Bryant explained.
The commission also will leave out of its preliminary report an analysis of mental health insurance program, that Carter has said he will propose next January, Bryant said.
Bryant assured the group that some Commission members have noted the "influence of institutional racism, classism, and sexism . . . now they affect the individual and impair his ability to function."
Bryant's reassuring remarks not withstanding, some of the directors expressed wariness of the commission's work thus far.
"There is an uneasiness, based on the history of commissions, as to what is going to happen post-commission," said Dr. Lewis King, head of the Fanon Research and Development Center, a Los Angeles center for black mental health concerns.
Speaking for still another ethnic group, Patrick Melendy, of the White Cloud Research Center in Portland, Ore., said that if the Bureau of Indian Affairs changed some of its policies in controlling reservations, "you may not have to spend any money for mental health there."