Our culture, beliefs, sexual identity, values, race and language all affect how we perceive and experience mental health conditions. In fact, cultural differences can influence what treatments, coping mechanisms and supports work for us. It is therefore essential for culture and identity to be a part of the conversation as we discuss both mental health and mental health care.
A person must feel comfortable and understood by their mental health professional for a therapeutic relationship to be effective. This includes feeling their mental health professional understands their identity and being comfortable addressing it openly. When a mental health professional understands the role that cultural differences play in the diagnosis of a condition and incorporates cultural needs and differences into a person’s care, it significantly improves outcomes. Mental health care must be tailored to the individual — to their identity, culture and lived experience.
As an individual or caregiver, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or the needs of your loved one. While it’s not always possible, finding the right provider is essential to ensure the dimensions of culture and language do not get in the way of healing or recovery. Instead, your culture -- those shared community values and experiences, along with dimensions of faith and spirituality, resiliency, key relationships, family bonds and pride in where you came from— becomes a source of strength and support.
How You Can Promote a Culture of Equity and Inclusion
- Be an advocate for the mental health of underrepresented groups and communities.
- Share information you’ve learned about what forms quality care from a cultural and equity lens.
- Show compassion and seek to understand the experience of individuals with identities different from your own.
- Do not assume that low treatment rates by members of a cultural or social group is due to a lack of effort in seeking care. Instead, consider any underlying challenges — individuals are less likely to seek help or engage in treatment if they cannot find a provider they can trust, who understands their identity and will treat them with dignity and respect.
- Write, call or talk to legislators — both local and federal — to support efforts to:
- Improve access to and the quality of mental health services for those who are underserved.
- Ensure providers are trained on cultural competence.
- Make linguistic services (interpretation and translation) available in treatment settings.
- Follow the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Provide equitable and respectful quality care and services that are inclusive of the cultural health beliefs and practices of the community you serve.
- Offer free language assistance and other needed assistance to individuals with a non-English language preference
- Hire diverse, bilingual staff that are representative of the community served.
Asian American and Pacific Islander
Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations have the lowest help-seeking rate of any racial/ethnic group, with less than a quarter of AAPI adults with a mental illness receiving treatment. This is due to the many systemic barriers to accessing mental health care and quality treatment.
While the experience of being Black in America varies tremendously, there are shared cultural factors that play a role in supporting well-being, resiliency and healing. However, another part of this shared experience is facing racism, discrimination and inequity that can significantly affect a person’s mental health.
Hispanic/Latinx communities show similar vulnerability to mental illness as the general population, but they face disparities in both access to and quality of treatment. This inequality puts these communities at a higher risk for more severe and persistent forms of mental health conditions.
Although there is a huge amount of diversity among Indigenous communities in the U.S., members of these groups share many of the same risk factors for mental health conditions, including economic and political marginalization, education disparities, discrimination and mental health challenges rooted in a long history of trauma.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersexed (LGBTQI) community represents a diverse range of identities and expressions of gender and sexual orientation. For those who identify as LGBTQI, it’s important to recognize how your experience of sexual orientation and gender identity relates to your mental health.
People with Disabilities
For the 61 million Americans who live with a disability, physical care is often seen as the first priority — but when a disability impacts a person’s quality of life, it can have a direct effect on all aspects of their well-being, including putting a person at risk for a mental health condition.