Being born and raised in Hong Kong, I had never heard of the term “mental health” before I stepped foot in America; stress and exhaustion were something everyone should just learn to deal with. The exposure I got to mental health topics and advocacy in America, however, led me to the realization of how much progress needed to be made within my own community, seeing as mental health topics were still heavily stigmatized back home.
Gradually learning more, I soon realized that misunderstandings and stigma regarding mental health prevailed throughout ethnic minority communities due to difficulty in accessing mental health resources and education. In order to learn more about approaches to destigmatize mental health topics in minority communities, I spoke with Jojo Lee, a provider at Acacia La Jolla who also works in a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team, about her experience of working with ethnic minority communities through the lens of also being part of an ethnic minority.
For Individuals Seeking Help
“Oftentimes, [individuals in ethnic minority groups] are not aware of available resources when attempting to seek help, or continue to carry misunderstandings regarding mental health care even after seeking help, such as assuming that only extreme cases should obtain mental healthcare,” explains Jojo. “They may also question the need to spend money on holding conversations about their problems.” To gain the trust of individuals within minority communities, education on mental health topics is essential to resolve misunderstandings, such as debunking myths of therapy being focused upon hypnosis and introducing them to more commonly utilized methods such as evidence-based practice, which has been backed up by research. Jojo adds that “insurance often also plays a huge factor in encouraging individuals to seek mental health care, since there may be confusion surrounding whether coverage is provided for therapy and mental health services.”
Education focused upon helping minority communities understand more about their insurance coverage may motivate individuals to consult a mental health professional, seeing as they may discover that their insurance plans provide partial or full coverage of mental health services, raising the affordability of these services. For newly immigrated individuals, however, a different approach may be needed since life security may take priority over mental health care in navigating the unfamiliar American environment. “Helping them locate a variety of resources and community services, beyond educating them about mental health, creates a more trusting relationship,” notes Jojo.
For the Community
Even when an individual desires help, the support of their community heavily impacts their decision on whether to actively seek help since most individuals fear the embarrassment and shame that is often associated with mental healthcare in ethnic minority communities due to heavy stigmatization. Jojo suggests asking loved ones to attend a therapy session alongside oneself so that the therapist can act as a mediator between both parties to create an atmosphere of
understanding. “Even informational flyers can help build understanding of mental disorders,” Jojo adds. However, older generations may particularly struggle with accepting that a close one is struggling with mental disorders. Jojo details that “they may believe that dealing with stress is a common struggle, which leads them to be unaccepting of the inability to deal with stressors. But stress should not be normalized. Even though stress is a common concern, each individual’s capacity to deal with stress is different, which needs to be addressed.”
By gently presenting relevant information to the community as a way to effectively support close loved ones, they may be encouraged to grow more engaged and informed. Most importantly, explaining disorders not as natural-born flaws, but instead different coping mechanisms for stressors, and showcasing therapy as a method of guiding individuals towards developing better coping mechanisms to deal with similar situations in the future is essential in creating a supportive and understanding environment.
How Do I Get Involved?
Volunteering in community centers, such as the Union of Pan Asian Communities, that work to support ethnic communities is a good way to get involved and understand more about helping ethnic minorities connect with mental health services and other essential resources, such as job-seeking opportunities and social networks, which all contribute towards supporting their mental wellbeing and encouraging them to seek out mental healthcare. As a student, being involved in mental health advocacy groups within the school community is also a great way to learn about various resources that you can direct others to.
While progress has been made on destigmatizing mental health topics within ethnic minority communities in recent years, misunderstandings are still prevalent. Education must be emphasized for future generations, solidifying the idea that mental health is not only tied in with physical health but is also of equal importance, so that communities may grow to become more accepting and supportive.