I never talked about anything I was going through, even when I clearly was in a poor mental health state. I wouldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t eat or hold down food, I felt like something was eating away at me, and everyday I would scratch away at my arm to relieve my stress, until I tore so much of my skin away I bled. But I never said anything. I was Asian, and cultural speaking, these weren’t things we talked about. I was stressed because I felt like I wasn’t achieving enough of what my family expected of me, and I thought the remedy was to work harder and accomplish more, and all this stress would go away.
I thought I was alone in my suffer and it was my personal weakness, but actually I wasn’t so rare. According to Mental Health America, cultural pressures contribute to low self-esteem among Asian-American women, and often maintain silence, not just fearing stigma for themselves, but their families even more so.
A comprehensive survey done by the Surgeon General in 2001 on the intersections of race, culture and mental health revealed that minorities face cultural barriers that prevent them from seeking counseling. Also, that minorities have less access to mental health services, often receive poorer treatment and are underrepresented in mental health research. But we cannot group these issues as a minority problem. Every ethnic community suffers from different challenges when approaching mental health.
In the African-American community, teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than Caucasian teenagers and African Americans are 20% more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic Whites. Yet many barriers face the African-Americans, including stigmas that that see depression as “personal weakness” and feelings high levels of denial and shame that prevent people from seeking help. In addition, African-Americans have very few psychologists they can identify with, for in 1998, only 2% of psychiatrists, 2% of psychologists and 4% of social workers, and recent statistics revealed only 1% of psychology doctorate degrees were awarded to black males in 2013.
A similar struggle is faced by the Latin@ community. Just 1% of psychologists identified themselves as Latin@, and this inability to identify with psychologists can be a factor in why ethnic minorities don’t seek help and but other alternatives instead.
One of the most concerning communities that is to some degree, relatively ignored, is the Native American population. Rates of alcohol-related deaths are much higher than average for the general population, and suicides rates are 1.5 times the national rate. Yet no comprehensive or wide scale study has been done on the Native American community despite the high rates of mental illness and clear mental health needs.
Every race is affected by mental health differently, and differences can even be found in smaller groups within ethnic communities. Campaigns and efforts to de-stigmatize mental health treatment and help cannot be one size fits all, but need to address the cultural barriers so many people in this country face. Expansion of cultural competency trainings not just within those in the mental health peers, but with school administrators, employers and community leaders can help bring down the blockades that stand in front of so many ethnic minorities.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.