Advice From A Therapist: How To Promote Positive Mental Health Amongst Different Cultural Groups

Mental health issues can be particularly difficult to confront in many religious and ethnic cultural groups.

As an Asian-American who grew up in a predominantly white community for 23 years, I personally experienced negative mental health stigmas and a lack of BIPOC mental health professionals who could relate to me. 

In my experience, it helps so much to have access to mental health professionals who resonate with your cultural background. This way, there’s less miscommunication and more appropriate treatments for your situation.

It’s simple: When someone can relate to your experience better, the better they can help you and make you feel comfortable.

The thing is, not only is there a lack of cultural awareness in mental health care, there are also negative stigmas within many cultural groups that make it difficult to create positive relationships with mental health.

That’s why I spent one week asking BIPOC mental health professionals this question: “How can we promote positive mental health amongst different cultural groups?”.

And now I’m here to share their best advice with you!

So, here are…

3 Ways To Promote Positive Mental Health Amongst Different Cultural Groups

1. Recognize and heal from the stigma and trauma in BIPOC communities

To start, Fatima Malik, LMHC-A and ATR-P at Medicine Heart Therapy addresses the crucial aspects of help-seeking beliefs in many BIPOC communities:

“Mental Health is highly stigmatized in a lot of BI&POC communities due to colonization and the mistrust and misuse of power in the history of mental health. 

I believe that to create internal healing within different cultural groups we need to address the lack of BI&POC Therapists in the field, as well as the importance of having culturally competent BI&POC therapists available to aid BI&POC communities.

Mental health professionals and the general public can support these spaces by donating or by facilitation of financial support for BI&POC therapists, so they can hold FREE group or individual spaces for BI&POC communities.

Also I would highlight that it is important to call out or report situations that are unsafe for BI&POC individuals , so that they can feel safe to reach out and gain access to mental health resources.”

2. Combat the long-standing ethnocentrism in mental health facilities and systems

Dr. Jennifer Young, a psychologist and trauma healer featured on Forbes, addresses how recognizing our cultural differences and the inherent issues in our health care systems can help combat this issue:

“Recognize that every individual is/are their own unique blend of past experiences, biology, and identities (visible and invisible).

One approach does not fit all – to serve ALL communities equally means we have to recognize the ethnocentrism inherent in our health practices and use authentic empathy to help people carve a path of healing that fits with their worldview and values.”

Going deeper, Brandon Shindo, MSW, LCSW, and Co-Founder of K&B Therapy, addresses how removing the hierarchy of authority in mental health care can combat negative stigma:
“As an Asian American Licensed Psychotherapist, building bridges between mental health and communities of color is an essential component of my professional mission.

By creating a professional relationship through face-to-face conversations in our communities, based upon relatability, humility, respect, and cultural awareness, a human-to-human dynamic is formed, removing the hierarchy of authority.  

This type of healthy dynamic and interaction(s) create an opportunity to educate people about mental illness and mental health services; thus, the negative stigma begins to be combatted.”

3. Actively work towards self-awareness and education

Katherine E. Thompson, a Licensed Professional Counselor & Licensed Chemical Dependence Counselor at Spero Psychological Services, gives us an idea by addressing how and why awareness of differences can help create positive change to mental health care in a wide range of cultural groups:
“…the core to helping promote positive mental health in communities of color is to further develop cultural competency. What that may look like is educating yourself on what different cultural groups may battle with as it pertains to mental health.

Not only is generating awareness important, it is also important to then transition into advocacy/ allyship.

Additionally, having an understanding of how you present in a room i.e. being cognizant of your own identities can then carry over into how you are able to impart change.” 

Summary – Now What?

Cultural differences and mental health are both complex concepts.

So we found 4 BIPOC mental health professionals who personally experienced close encounters with how cultural differences accentuate mental health issues.

They told us about some of the most urgent ways we can take positive action for mental health while considering cultural differences.

Research from 2009 found that, if a friend or family member endorsed professional help, then patients were more likely to seek support from a professional patients for their mental illness.

Seems logical, right?

But many individuals in a wide range of ethnic and religious cultural groups face internal and external barriers to seek professional help. For example, they are often…

  • Discouraged to discuss mental health in their cultural communities because of shame and other negative stigmas
  • Misunderstood and/or discriminated against in the mental health care system because of their cultural background
  • Struggling to find professionals who can give the best treatment by sharing similar cultural experiences and backgrounds

It’s a complex issue that BIPOC therapists and psychologists are trying to make positive changes to.

So remember what the 3 key things they said about how to promote positive mental health amongst different cultural groups:

  1. Recognize and heal from the stigma and trauma in BIPOC communities
  2. Combat the long-standing ethnocentrism in mental health facilities and systems
  3. Actively work towards self-awareness and education

It’s widely accepted to accept individual differences and cultural differences, but actually doing it is harder than it sounds. 

Luckily, we can start addressing these 3 key action points today!

FAQ: How Cultural Differences Impact Mental Health Care

What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma is a negative attitude toward individuals with mental illness.

It refers to a negative bias against, or discrimination of, an individual or group on the basis of a mental disorder diagnosis, mental health symptoms or mental health treatment.

Mental disorder stigma can be internalized by the person living with a mental health difficulty, or it can be external, and may include being treated differently by outsiders for having a mental health difficulty.

Mental health stigma can also refer to the negative attitudes (or labelling) and discrimination towards individuals with mental health difficulties, which may be due to fears of violence or being labelled themselves.

What Kind Of Mental Health Stigma Exists In Different Cultural Groups? 

Mental health stigma exists in different cultural groups as a result of the negative attitude, rejection and discriminating behavior toward the people suffering from mental illness.

The way the stigma looks like can be different in every community. But there are similar patterns even between different cultures. For example:

  • Stigma may be overt and obvious – like teasing, bullying, and violence. Or, it can be covert and subtle – like avoiding discussions, denying the existence of mental disorder or mental health concerns, and social exclusion. 
  • Many people think that individuals with a mental health difficulty are not able to be productive members of society or even develop stable social relationships. (Sound familiar?)
  • Many people think that having a mental illness is shameful to the individual, the family, and even the community.

A common result of facing this type of stigma is that you might have internalized stigma about your own mental health because of the way that your community handles mental health. 

This can then make it difficult to treat mental illnesses, take care of your mental health, and even grow as a person.

In fact, Hispanic and Asian populations report the lowest rates of having a regular doctor or provider, at 58 percent and 60 percent. Furthermore, African Americans are 20% more likely than everyone else to suffer from mental health problems.

Almost all negative stigma can accentuate mental health issues and influence help-seeking beliefs.

One way that we can help remove this stigma is to promote positive attitudes and community mental health treatment.

How does culture affect anxiety?

There are many ways culture can create and affect your anxiety.

For example, if you have anxiety for any reason, your cultural background and cultural community can have an impact on how you deal with that anxiety. 

This is because, in every culture, there is an idea of what is considered normal and acceptable social behavior. And if you don’t fit into that standard, you can become anxious about doing “the right thing” and fitting into your community.

Culture greatly affects the anxiety that people experience.

As you are learning how to live deal with anxiety in your daily lives, it’s important to remember that anxiety is normal and can be useful – it can motivate you to succeed.

In fact, anxiety can also help you avoid threats. When we have anxiety, we pay attention to a problem and prepare to face it. This is true in when faced with physical challenges, competitions, final exams, and even business presentations.

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