Ethnic Minority Mental Health: Why Cultural Competence Is Important

Ethnic Minority Mental Health Awareness MonthDid you know July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month?

Sadly, a lot of people do not know this. This is not always intentional. Resources are scarce and the topic often gets buried beneath other topics including news.

But we can’t continue to ignore an issue that needs a lot of attention in today’s world.

This article will briefly discuss Ethnic Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

It’s important to be mindful of the challenges of ethnic minorities when they are seeking mental health treatment. It’s even more important to be aware of their internalized feelings of inadequacy when seeking counseling. An understanding of their experience is needed in order to be of any real help.

The fields of psychotherapy and psychiatry have attempted (through training, mandatory job events, months of recognition, etc.) to incorporate an acceptance and awareness of the need for people of ALL colors and ethnic origin to consider, pursue, and stay in treatment.


What does “Cultural Competence” really mean?

Today’s research focuses exclusively on mental health professionals being mindful of cultural competence ( i.e., a sensitivity to the culture and issues of an ethnic group). But cultural competence isn’t just for people who aren’t considered a minority. It is also for individuals who have absolutely no interest in understanding the emotional and psychological experience of another culture. Interestingly, I too have to be reminded of the challenges my cultures (African American, Native American/American Indian, German) experience when it comes to mental health.

Cultural competence includes an array of skills necessary to empathize with and fully understand the needs of individuals from other cultures. For example, it may be difficult for a clinician to understand why a young Native American male would rather engage in indigenous healing practices such as the Shaman healing ritual as opposed to seeking medical attention for bipolar disorder and an alcohol addiction.


Why Some Cultures Never Reach Out For Help

It isn’t uncommon for an African American, Hispanic (Latina/Latino), or Native American male to refuse counseling in favor of abusing illegal substances and other street drugs to cope with major depressive disorder. It is much easier (and not so emotionally and psychologically “unsafe”) to use drugs to self-medicate rather than accept help from a professional. Although there are a variety of reasons for this, the major reason seems to be mistrust and fear.

As many mental health professionals will recall, the field of psychiatry/Counseling was historically dominated by White, middle-class males. It was difficult for females and people of color to enter the field and be respected. Sadly, a lot of ethnic minorities believe the field of psychiatry and counseling are still this way.


Mental health, Trauma, & Ethnic Minorities

Because of unresolved trauma and fear of oppression, mental health professionals must be culturally competent and willing/ready to respond to whoever needs their help. In this video, I discuss trauma from a cultural perspective including reasons for why people of color rarely seek help.


As always, I wish you well