Building Cultural Bridges During National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Now that summer is here

Now that summer is here, we’re promoting National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month. Our goal is to share how important it is to have access to mental healthcare and to help break down barriers.

Mental health conditions affect every age group, gender, socio-economic status, and culture. Yet, African Americans and Hispanic Americans are much less likely to use mental health services. It’s even more serious for people who live below the poverty level, because they deal with more psychological distress compared to those who are wealthier.

It’s also troubling that many people who seek care for mental health issues often don’t remain in care once they begin.

There may be many reasons this is true. In some cases, it might be because a doctor doesn’t really understand unique needs and concerns that are rooted in a person’s race or culture. That lack of insight may lead to someone not getting the right diagnosis for their mental health condition. If that happens, the treatment may not be as helpful as it could be.

There’s more. Someone who isn’t diagnosed properly may not trust their healthcare provider. Plus, their results may suffer if they feel their provider doesn’t understand them, or if they don’t feel comfortable being their true self when they seek treatment.

The thing is, a patient and their caregivers should feel free to share about their culture and how that might impact treatment for them. They should be willing to talk about family dynamics, traditions, expectations (spoken and unspoken), gender roles, and other factors.

Bottom line, it’s a care provider’s job to create a safe place for their patients to feel comfortable and not judged. They should be trained to ask questions and try to understand each patient on their own terms.

One of the most important ways that we can help improve mental health treatment for minority populations is by increasing cultural competency.

What is cultural competency?

Cultural competency is when healthcare professionals – mental health clinicians, doctors, nurses and pharmacists across all disciplines – understand the cultural influences that might affect someone’s health outcomes. This includes things like:

  • Language barriers
  • Stigma around mental health
  • The way a specific culture describes or presents symptoms

Sometimes, the way a person describes a symptom can be specific to their culture — which means the provider should be aware of that description. In other cultures, it may be important for someone to consult certain family members before making a medical decision. In other cultures, people may not feel comfortable talking about their medical history. When language barriers are present, translators should be available to help make sure the patient understands what’s being said during an appointment.

Being aware of these situations and being able to ask the right questions to help the patient is an example of cultural competency. When a care provider is more aware of a person’s needs based on their race, ethnicity, religion, health beliefs, and practices, they are better able to treat that individual. In turn, that helps a patient learn to rely on their care provider and make sure they continue getting the care they need to be well.

Hopefully, your care provider has taken advantage of training to increase their own cultural competency. Education can improve providers’ ability to recognize mental health signs, symptoms and barriers that may be unique to the minority groups living in your community.

Sometimes, your care provider could use some help from you. Here are some tips on how to bring your whole authentic self to the next appointment for you or your loved one:

  1. Share culture and other information that you think is relevant with your provider. It’s important for patients and their families to feel empowered to voice for their own needs while giving their care provider the opportunity to get it right.
  2. If you feel uncomfortable speaking up when seeking mental health treatment, find a healthcare advocate. This is someone who can help you find a provider known to be sensitive to your cultural needs. If needed, they can also help you get through your appointment. This person should be able to provide examples of people who have received excellent treatment and the positive impact it has made on their physical and mental health.
  3. Be willing to search for a new provider. When seeking mental health treatment, finding a healthcare professional you trust is vital to meeting treatment goals. If your provider isn’t meeting your needs, seek help elsewhere. The important thing is to keep seeking help when you need it. Don’t give up!
  4. Use resources to gather knowledge. That can include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health website, the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) blogMental Health America of Central Carolinas or other similar resources.

Remember, we’re here to help. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental well-being concerns, you can reach out to our crisis line any time of day or night at 1-800-939-5911.

Cost per Session: $60 – $150 based on service.

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