Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can and do affect people of all ages, economic backgrounds, and nationalities. And yet, many indigenous people of color (IPOC) do not seek the help of mental health professionals. In fact, the underutilization of mental health services by IPOC is one of the most persistent health disparities.
What are some of the reasons or causes for this underutilization of mental health services?
Mental Health is Considered a Taboo
In many IPOC communities, speaking about mental health struggles is considered a weakness or taboo. Getting in touch with one’s emotions is not considered a good thing and speaking about your emotions or showing vulnerability to a stranger is often thought of as unacceptable.
Therapy is Not Perceived as Credible
Many in the IPOC community are less likely than European-Americans to perceive therapy as credible, according to some research. This may stem from the fact that the focus of common treatments (CBT as an example) is on the methods (self-disclosure) and these methods seem somehow unrelated to possible positive outcomes (a reduction in anxiety, as an example).
Collectivistic VS Individualistic Cultural Values
Many IPOC communities come from a collectivistic background, meaning they value the group as opposed to the individual. People in these communities may have an interdependent view of self as well as an emphasis on interpersonal relationships. Whereas many in the European-American communities come from an individualistic cultural background that supports an independent view of the self and emphasizes self-development and self-growth.
One of the biggest obstacles in receiving effective mental health care is being able to express your feelings. But oftentimes, a language or communication barrier stands in the way of an IPOC community member seeking treatment.
What Can Mental Health Community Members Do?
More discussions must happen within the IPOC community itself for real change to occur. Overcoming the stigma of mental health is not something that will magically go away. But mental health professionals can help facilitate these conversations through outreach. These professionals should also seek to learn as much as they can about the different cultural communities in their local area so they can tailor their messaging.
If you or someone you know would like to explore treatment options, please reach out to me. My goal is to create a safe and non-judgmental space for people of all backgrounds to explore their inner world and get the help they need.