Breaking down the barriers to mental health treatment
We all have different opinions about mental health, different ways of expressing our emotions, and different preferences and expectations for treatment. In some cultures, mental health problems are considered a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower. In others, they may be seen as a spiritual or religious issue. Such beliefs can make it difficult for some people to seek help for mental health problems.
Not seeking mental health care can prevent people from feeling better, being productive in their daily lives, and being involved in their family, work, and community. However, mental health issues are just as real and serious as physical health problems and should be treated.
When a person grows up in an environment in which mental health is considered taboo, their family refuses to openly discuss it, and people around them do not believe in therapy, it can be tough to seek treatment. One may fear being judged and worry that others will think they are weak or a failure. Some may be afraid that their family will reject and stop loving them if they admit they are struggling with a mental health issue. Often, those who do manage to overcome cultural barriers quit mental health treatment prematurely.
The stigma around mental health is so prevalent among Asian Americans that people from that population are 50% less likely than other racial groups to seek treatment. Some groups trust informal care providers more than mental health professionals. For example, American Indians and Alaska Natives often turn to traditional healers, while African Americans rely on ministers. Muslims sometimes hesitate to seek help from mental health professionals because of the fear of not being understood, the difference in beliefs, and the deep-rooted mistrust of Western medicine. Some minority groups, such as Latinos, tend not to trust the healthcare system and physicians. Individuals from South Asian cultures that place a high value on emotional restraint and self-sufficiency tend to intellectualize their feelings and feel a deep sense of shame when sharing they are not well.
Sumita A. Changela, a licensed professional counselor at The Women’s Center, shared a story of a young woman who reached out for help because she was feeling down, tired, and had trouble sleeping, which led to her struggling with schoolwork. She was brought up in a conservative family that taught her to always put the needs of their family and community before her own. When she first moved out to go to college, she was excited about the opportunity to be independent, experience new things, and meet new people. However, she was apprehensive to share the details of her student life with her family, worried they might disapprove. She became overwhelmed with the pressure to conform and struggled to balance her college life and family expectations. The fear and stress caused anxiety, leading to sleeping problems and academic setbacks.
The young woman focused on identity work in counseling sessions that acknowledged and respected the family’s traditions and beliefs. With time, her mood and sleep improved, she became more positively engaged in her relationships, and – most importantly- she started opening up and confiding in her family. She even worked up the courage to tell them she was dating.
There are many reasons why people from certain cultures, religions, or ethnicities conceal mental health issues, fail to get treatment, or delay seeking help till symptoms become severe – leading to worsening conditions, greater isolation, and hopelessness.
“If you’re struggling, but your family doesn’t believe in therapy and doesn’t support you, you may feel like you have no options for getting help,” Sumita said. “There are some things you can do to overcome your mental health struggles,” she added.
First, contact your primary doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing symptoms similar to depression and anxiety. They can also refer you to a mental health provider.
The more you know about mental health, the better equipped you will be to advocate for yourself and get the support you need. Many resources are available online and in libraries that you can use to educate yourself, such as this Black Mental Health Resources page on The Women’s Center website. You can also seek out and join a support group to connect with others who understand what you are going through.
A close friend, teacher, or neighbor might be able to offer advice and understanding. Sometimes, just talking to someone you trust can help you feel better and cope with whatever you are going through. Small things can make a difference, too. Exercise and deep breathing can help manage some of the symptoms when feeling down. Incorporating them into daily routines can be a great start.
Once you’re ready, you might feel more comfortable working with a therapist with a similar background. Some counselors specialize in working with people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and religions, which can be reassuring if you are worried about being judged or misunderstood.
It might feel like there’s no path forward, but no matter your circumstances, you must remember that you deserve to feel better, you’re not alone, and help is available.
If you or someone you know could benefit from mental health counseling at a reduced fee, contact us at (571) 385-1625 or visit this page. We also accept most insurances.