15 Feb THE INTERSECTIONS OF MENTAL HEALTH AND CULTURE
Seeking to go to therapy can be daunting. Mental health services already have major issues concerning their levels of accessibility and availability. These issues are further complicated by the added stress of being a person of color. Although problems of accessibility can be overcome, people often have to visit multiple different therapists before finding a comfortable fit to work with, and not everyone has the option of doing so. Therapy is not a one size fits all solution, and there are nuances for each individual that need to be properly acknowledged.
For people of colour in particular, there are seemingly endless complexities built into mental health struggles. Inherited trauma can go untreated for generations as people with less privilege are left behind by systems built to oppress rather than uplift them. The effects of immigration, colourism, racism, and other experiences unique to people of different races and cultures can be difficult to recognize and understand, let alone explain to someone who lacks an actual understanding of what these issues entail. It can be uncomfortable and exhausting to try and explain such trauma to someone, especially if you have to constantly supplement it with contextual explanations.
Mental health tends to manifest in considerably diverse ways for people according to their different cultural contexts. As a Pakistani-Canadian, mental health is not always openly talked about in our culture or given the attention it needs. It is a bit of a grey area, as many people do not have access to the knowledge or resources needed to be able to recognize their symptoms. Mental health issues are even sometimes viewed as afflictions that only happen to white people. This assumption is problematic and is difficult to challenge within the settings of vastly different societies. While there are clear problems with mental health recognition interculturally, there are also significant problems cross-culturally, which are especially noticeable within Western societies. People of colour are more likely to be misdiagnosed by mental health professionals than white people. For issues such as eating disorders, people of colour are also more likely to experience symptoms than white people but are still less likely to receive treatment. This has potentially fatal consequences, as the denial of much-needed treatment can dictate life and death.
The experience of a person growing up within an immigrant family while experiencing mental health issues in their household is extremely different from those who are not constantly polarized by such stark cultural differences. People of colour deserve to have their experiences validated by someone who can understand the fact that their situations may present entirely different challenges. The solutions that work for white people may not be possible for us to actually implement into our lives, precisely because of our racial and/or cultural factors. Feasible solutions recommended by a therapist for someone like me are not always the same as for someone with a different background, and this is crucial to take into account.
When people of colour discuss the need for racial and cultural sensitivities to be factored in, we are often met with exclamations like, “Why does race need to be brought into everything? They have a degree, that’s what matters.” Unfortunately, race cannot be separated that easily from our everyday lives- in fact, it impacts us more than we may even recognize ourselves. Rather than treating it as a deflection, it is something that we truly cannot escape from. It is ingrained in every aspect of our lives.
Racial and cultural similarities mean a lot more than just someone looking like you. They encompass certain shared experiences that cannot always be fully expressed but are simply felt and affirmed. The experiences of people of colour with mental health often intersect with or are a direct result of racial traumas, and they need to be addressed as such. Increasing accessibility for mental health services should not only mean reducing the barriers people of colour face when seeking treatment but also facilitating more opportunities for therapists of colour to be able to treat patients. The feeling of being heard in a way that you never have before can make a world of a difference to someone struggling with their mental health, and people of colour deserve to be given this chance.
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