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How Different Cultures Tackle Mental Health Problems

Did you know that mental health issues affect different cultures in different ways? For example, both the Black and Hispanic-Latino communities suffer from circumstances that differ from others. In this article, we will explore what those differences are, look closer at how the pandemic magnified these problems, and what is being done to correct the situation.

The Pandemic and Hispanic-Latinos

The mental health system was simply not built with Hispanic-Latinos in mind. With coronavirus spreading like wildfire across all cultural barriers, the Hispanic-Latino community was hit hard. With a higher death rate, unemployment, educational challenges, homelessness, and a lack of access to effective healthcare, the symptoms among Hispanic-Latinos mimic those commonly connected to post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Add to this a magnification of the barriers preventing access to effective health care services for those in need, and it becomes clear that there is a cultural issue that needs to be remedied.

How Culture Is Both a Problem and Solution

The mental health needs of Hispanic-Latinos are hard to meet. The conventional structures of delivering health care services do not work in this community. The focus must be on culture, and that is both a positive and a negative. Pamela Fullerton, a Mental Health Counselor and owner of Advocacy & Education Consulting sums it up in this way, “We (Hispanic-Latinos) were comfortable because we just put our heads down, and we’d keep going, and I think that’s what we’d been taught to do…go, go, go, go and when we look up again, we find ourselves in chaos because we haven’t looked up in so long.” She explains that the cultural focus is to keep going, no matter what. This means that conversations about work-life balance, self-care, and healthcare are less common than they should be.

Culture Influences How People Cope with Stress

NAMI Illinois Mental Health Equity & Inclusion Director, Laura Martinez, says that culture influences people’s issues and how they cope with them. She says that there is “a significant disconnect between minorities and mental health that dates back to its origin, which never considered other cultural experiences.” Martinez explains that White, European, and older White, American men launched psychology and psychiatry. They did all of their work at the time on other white men, and white, middle-class wives. Other cultures were not involved, which contributed to today’s disconnect. Perhaps that’s why more mental health locations are opening around the state, like Geode Health, backed by private equity firms, to help tackle the mental health crisis for teens.

Other Cultures Have Mental Health Care History

Martinez points to ancient health care activities. “Have we seen mental health in other ethnic cultures? Yes! Our indigenous ancestors did ancient healing practices, so mental health has been there.” She says the difference is that the methods differ from what is currently the standard in the U.S. The disservice that people of color experience, as an example, results from not implementing their specific customs into treatment plans. The benefits of doing this are many. According to Martinez, the process to pinpoint an individualized and preferred method of treatment is time-consuming, but, “by doing so, it creates trust and allows people to feel more comfortable opening up.” Naturally, when people open up, they are more willing to share and discuss issues that may otherwise be kept inside and not treated.

Mental Health Should Be Collaborative

Fullerton refers to mental health as a team effort between client and service provider. “It’s being in a partnership with the client you’re working with, with the community that you’re working with, getting their input so that they’re comfortable with what you’re doing in the room.” She says this is important as culture will shut things down if there is no trust. “They’re gonna do what so many Latinos, so many Black-Americans, what they’ve been doing for years, which is coming to counseling for maybe one or two sessions and then leaving because they didn’t connect with the human being in front of them.” With technology increasing access to mental health care, but introducing methods of delivery that are not all built on the one-to-one model, it is easy to adopt one that does not involve building a connection with the service provider. Sadly, when this situation develops, it further widens the valley between the two destroying any collaborative efforts.

Final Thoughts

The pandemic revealed a disconnect between minorities and available health care services. Culture tends to create a barrier that is responsible for the disconnect. However, the issue can be easily resolved. In many cases, culture also plays a role in the solution. By implementing specific customs as part of treatment, outcomes should improve, and the gap between culture and health care will slowly close.

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