Cultural Perspectives on Mental Health

Understanding Cultural Differences in Mental Health Advocacy

The stigma surrounding mental health is lessening, thanks to increased advocacy and awareness. Yet, some cultures still display biases towards people wrestling with their mental health. It’s important to understand cultural differences

Crystal Davis, PMHNP-BC

among various populations so we, as a collective, can work towards a more accepting society.

Crystal Davis, advanced practice provider (APP) with Riverside Psychiatric Specialists, offers insights surrounding cultural perspectives of mental health.

What Keeps People From Getting Help?

Individually, we all perceive and approach mental illness differently. “Illness” is whatever a person views it as—whether real or imagined, body or mind. One area where culture enters the picture is how motivated individuals are to reach out for help. If they don’t, the consequences may be extreme distress, disability, or even suicide.

“Many patients avoid or hide their symptoms from their family and friends for as long as possible, due to the fear of being judged. Some people view it as a mark of shame, a sign of weakness,” states Davis.

For example, people of Asian descent often keep any troubling thoughts to themselves, based on a cultural expectation to practice self-control, emotional restraint, and social inhibition. African Americans often turn to spirituality and prayer to mitigate mental health concerns.

Importance of Cultural and Linguistic Competency

Davis reinforces that biases don’t just exist within cultural groups. They can also occur in the provider-patient relationship. Self-awareness is crucial to ensure mental health providers aren’t exhibiting stereotypes in their therapeutic practices. Providers also need to develop cultural competence—fully understanding the different cultures and backgrounds in the communities they serve.

“Engaging with the clients from different backgrounds will also help,” she notes. “Also, it’s important to know the language of the patient, which is known as linguistic competence. Many patients have limited English proficiency, which shapes the comprehension, their understanding, their decision-making when it comes to the mental health treatment in general.”

Why Community Resources Are Essential

In many cases, mental health concerns lead to secondary health issues. Communities can help mitigate such a progression by providing readily available resources surrounding mental health. This ensures those facing mental health challenges can receive help, even if they face disparities such as socioeconomic standing, racism, or family dysfunction. Another strategy is for health systems to hire people of diverse backgrounds. This contributes to greater cultural and linguistic competency.

Finally, establishing a level playing field between provider and patient helps to advance mental health treatment. “It’s essential to develop a partnership to realign the power relationships between providers and individuals, allowing a patient or the client to be an active participant in their care,” urges Davis.

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