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Removing cultural barriers to mental health care

By The Health News Team | May 17, 2024
Removing cultural barriers to mental health care

In December 2023, nearly half of all Americans, 49%, reported frequently experiencing stress.

For people of color and other marginalized groups, the stress of discrimination takes an additional toll. Research shows that experiencing chronic discrimination can lead to negative physical and mental health outcomes, from anxiety and depression to insomnia and increased risk for heart attack.

As a licensed clinical social worker specializing in stress management at Sharp Mesa Vista, Ashanti Miranda says she’s seen the importance for communities of color to embrace strategies that acknowledge both individual and systemic pressures.

“Effective stress management is more than a personal routine – it's a collective need that supports our broader mental health and resilience," she says.

Stress can lead to a host of negative health outcomes, including:

  • Irritability

  • Insomnia

  • Fatigue

  • Increased or decreased appetite

  • Headaches

  • Gastrointestinal complaints

  • High blood pressure or hypertension

  • Greater risk of heart attack or stroke

  • Increased relationship conflicts

In general, stress levels can be decreased through identifying what causes stress and working to reduce or eliminate those things. You can then take steps to cope with the stressors that cannot be avoided.

Cultural barriers to receiving mental health care
When these efforts are not enough to reduce stress, your primary care provider can work with you to treat your stress or refer you to a mental health specialist. However, for some groups, there are barriers to receiving help that others in the U.S. may not face.

Miranda says cultural barriers in mental health aren't simply obstacles but rather are often entrenched systems of stigma and misunderstanding that can prevent people of color from seeking the help they need.

“From a deep-seated distrust of institutional solutions to the stigma associated with mental health challenges, these barriers require us to be proactive and persistent in our efforts to dismantle them,” she says.

How to remove cultural barriers to care
Emotional support from family, friends and the community is paramount, according to Miranda.

She suggests the following strategies:

  • Communicate with your health care providers, even if you're unsure they relate.

  • Ask lots of questions and request that your providers explain terms you don't understand.

  • Request an interpreter if needed.

  • Bring a family member or friend to appointments with you.

  • Ask about additional support systems, such as support groups and community resources.

Miranda also acknowledges that those in the mental health field have an opportunity — and obligation — to remove barriers to care.

“We must build mental health services that are not only accessible but also deeply respectful of the cultural narratives that shape our experiences,” she says. “This is about more than providing services – it's about transforming them to foster genuine inclusivity and trust."

Miranda adds that in both inpatient work and one-on-one therapy, she’s witnessed the transformative power of open discussions about mental health in communities of color.

“Reducing stigma starts with us – by speaking openly and supporting each other in seeking help, we demonstrate that mental health care is a vital aspect of overall wellbeing,” she says.

Learn more about mental health; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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