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Overcoming cultural barriers

We need to do a better job of overcoming cultural and spiritual barriers in Mental Health

What comes to mind when you think about culture? Unique languages, different clothing and diverse food? But a society’s culture also impacts a person’s beliefs, norms and values. It impacts how you view certain ideas or behaviours. And in the case of mental health, it can impact whether or not you seek help, what type of help you seek and what support you have around you.

Research shows that minorities are less likely to get mental health treatment or will wait until symptoms are severe before looking. In fact, only 66 percent of minority adults have a regular health care provider compared to 80 percent of white adults.

It’s important that we understand the role culture plays in mental health care so we can support our loved ones and encourage treatment when it’s needed most.

Here are four ways culture can impact mental health: 

  1. Cultural stigma. Every culture has a different way of looking at mental health. For many, there is growing stigma around mental health, and mental health challenges are considered a weakness and something to hide. This can make it harder for those struggling to talk openly and ask for help.
  2. Understanding symptoms. Culture can influence how people describe and feel about their symptoms. It can affect whether someone chooses to recognise and talk about only physical symptoms, only emotional symptoms or both.
  3. Community Support. Cultural factors can determine how much support someone gets from their family and community when it comes to mental health. Because of existing stigma, minorities are sometimes left to find mental health treatment and support alone.
  4. Resources. When looking for mental health treatment, you want to talk to someone who understands your specific experiences and concerns. It can sometimes be difficult or time-consuming to find resources and treatment options that take into account specific cultures factors and needs.

These are only a few ways culture can impact the perception of and treatment for mental health. Every culture and person is different and face a unique journey to recovery.

You can help address the mental health of minorities by understanding the role culture plays in mental health and by becoming trained to help those around you. Mental Health First Aid gives people the skills to identify signs of mental health and substance use challenges and action steps to take to help them get treatment. Access a Mental Health First Aid course and #BeTheDifference in the life of someone who may need your support today.

Good read – Culture and Language in Mental Health

culture-and-language

Seeking help?

People all over the world experience stress, and levels are historically high.

However, for people of colour and other marginalised groups, the stress of discrimination takes an additional toll. Research shows that experiencing chronic discrimination can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes, from anxiety and depression to insomnia and increased risk for heart attack.

We know that discrimination plays a role in adding to the stressors that we all experience, and almost 7 in 10 people within communities of colour are saying they experience discrimination on a daily basis.”

Stress can lead to a host of negative health outcomes, including:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal complaints
  • High blood pressure or hypertension
  • Greater risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Increased relationship conflicts

In general, stress levels can be decreased through identifying what causes stress and working to reduce or eliminate those things. You can then take steps to cope with the stressors that cannot be avoided.

Cultural barriers to receiving mental health care

When these efforts are not enough to reduce stress, your primary care provider can work with you to treat your stress or refer you to a mental health specialist. However, for some groups, there are additional barriers to receiving help.

There maybe several reasons why there may be barriers to accessing mental health services for underserved communities. One may be logistical — there may not be adequate access to health care services or it might be difficult to get time off work or to get child care. Language may also be an issue. Another concern might include the stigma of seeking mental health services or a belief that the issue should be handled individually, within the family or with help from a faith leader.”

How to remove cultural barriers to care

Emotional support from family, friends and the community is paramount.

Suggested strategies:

  • Communicate with your health care providers, even if you’re unsure they relate.
  • Ask lots of questions and request that your providers explain terms you don’t understand.
  • Request an interpreter if needed.
  • Bring a family member or friend to appointments with you.
  • Ask about additional support systems, such as support groups and community resources.

Those in the mental health field have an opportunity — and obligation — to remove barriers to care.

We need to do more work to be in touch with what our patients and others in the community are experiencing. We need to offer adequate training to integrate cultural factors and linguistic issues, and also have to be actively recruiting and training people from underserved communities to become providers themselves.

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