What makes Mental Health important?
Honestly speaking, mental health affects every aspect of our being – from our private experiences to how we see and interact with the world in which we exist. Our ability to solve problems, cope, navigate relationships, and even our sense of productivity or happiness is intimately connected to our mental health and well-being. While mental health advocates and educators have made strides in reducing barriers and finding ways to destigmatize mental health, we must ask ourselves if we are doing enough to challenge the cultural framework through which our mental health care is provided; as we live in a diverse world, our approach to mental health cannot be one-size-fits-all.
Studies suggest minority groups show higher levels of anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental health disorders, in comparison to those who belong to the dominant social group. While barriers are present for most, treatment barriers for minority groups are vast – language barriers, genetic & lifestyle choices, lack of understanding, social stigma & mistrust, cultural competence, rejection, systemic racism, trauma…, the list does go on.
Speaking as a clinician, who also happens to belong to a visible minority group, I can reflect on my experiences as a service provider, but also as a human who has witnessed the struggles that exists for members of my cultural group when they are in need of mental health support. Often clients who belong to a minority group express shame, and fear judgment from those closest to them. All cultures, but particularly non-Western cultures such as Asian and African cultures, have a strong negative attitude (stigma) against people with mental illness and seeking treatment for mental illness. Overcoming these ingrained beliefs is difficult and isolating, as one might be inclined to believe the people closest to them will judge them. Ultimately, those who belong to minority groups want to be accepted and understood just the same as those who belong to the dominant social group; however, they must first battle their identity, their culture, their families…, before they feel accepted or understood for their authentic experiences.
Informing people that mental health services are available is not enough. People belonging to minority groups, for example ethnic minority groups, have personal, familial and cultural dynamics which need to be reconciled before they can consider accessing mental health support. While many access services despite the dynamics, there remains a degree of shame perpetuated by the fear of how family, friends and/or community members may react.
While social media campaigns aid in normalizing mental health and related services, diversity and representation are lacking. In order to shape mental health services to be an inclusive experience, an understanding of different cultural perspectives and experiences is vital.
Savita Jaswal, MSW RSW