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What comes to mind when you think about culture? For a lot of us, we immediately think of what’s right in front of us: unique languages, different clothing and diverse food. But a society’s culture also impacts a person’s beliefs, norms and values. It impacts how you view certain ideas or behaviors. And in the case of mental health, it can impact whether or not you seek help, what type of help you seek and what support you have around you.

According to research published by The Commonwealth Fund, minorities in the United States are less likely to get mental health treatment or will wait until symptoms are severe before looking. In fact, only 66 percent of minority adults have a regular health care provider compared to 80 percent of white adults. Hispanic and Asian populations report the lowest rates of having a regular doctor or provider, at 58 percent and 60 percent.

It’s important that we understand the role culture plays in mental health care so we can support our loved ones and encourage treatment when it’s needed most.

Here are four ways culture can impact mental health: 

  1. Cultural stigma. Every culture has a different way of looking at mental health. For many, there is growing stigma around mental health, and mental health challenges are considered a weakness and something to hide. This can make it harder for those struggling to talk openly and ask for help.
  2. Understanding symptoms. Culture can influence how people describe and feel about their symptoms. It can affect whether someone chooses to recognize and talk about only physical symptoms, only emotional symptoms or both.
  3. Community Support. Cultural factors can determine how much support someone gets from their family and community when it comes to mental health. Because of existing stigma, minorities are sometimes left to find mental health treatment and support alone.
  4. Resources. When looking for mental health treatment, you want to talk to someone who understands your specific experiences and concerns. It can sometimes be difficult or time-consuming to find resources and treatment options that take into account specific cultures factors and needs.

These are only a few ways culture can impact the perception of and treatment for mental health. Every culture and person is different and face a unique journey to recovery.

You can help address the mental health of minorities by understanding the role culture plays in mental health and by becoming trained to help those around you. Mental Health First Aid gives people the skills to identify signs of mental health and substance use challenges and action steps to take to help them get treatment. Find a Mental Health First Aid course near you and #BeTheDifference in the life of someone who may need your support today.

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