Learn the common signs of mental illness in adults and adolescents.
Learn more about common mental health conditions that affect millions
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Our culture, beliefs, sexual identity, values, race and language all affect how we perceive and experience mental health conditions. In fact, cultural differences can influence what treatments, coping mechanisms and supports work for us. It is therefore essential for culture and identity to be a part of the conversation as we discuss both mental health and mental health care.
The shared beliefs, values and experiences of any social or racial group can result in different worldviews, and have a significant impact on how someone perceives and understands symptoms. For example, a person who has experienced discrimination due to their identity may experience depression symptoms as anger more than sadness.
Terminology and understanding of mental illness may differ in communities as well. For example, one study found that white Americans focused on biomedical perspectives of mental illness while Latinx and African American participants tended to connect mental illness to spiritual, moral and social explanations.
A person must feel comfortable and understood by their mental health professional for a therapeutic relationship to be effective. This includes feeling their mental health professional understands their identity and being comfortable addressing it openly.
When a mental health professional understands the role that cultural differences play in the diagnosis of a condition, and incorporates cultural needs and differences into a person’s care, it significantly improves outcomes. This is why mental health care must be tailored to the individual — to their identity, culture and experience.
We live in a racialized society, where the perception of race matters profoundly regarding relationships, opportunities and access to housing, employment and services. Therefore, members of racial groups face additional barriers when it comes to receiving care. Some of these include higher levels of stigma within a community, fewer mental health professionals in their immediate area and fewer providers with a similar background or who speak the same language.
There is also a lack of covered mental health care for members of racialized groups who are overrepresented in professions that do not offer health insurance. Often, even when they have insurance, they face discrimination or disparate treatment when trying to access care. They may receive poorer quality care due to lack of cultural competence, language barriers, bias and inadequate resources. This can result in misdiagnosis, dropping out of treatment and delayed recovery.
This needs to change.
As an individual or caregiver, don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself or the needs of your loved one. While it’s not always possible, finding the right provider is essential to ensure the dimensions of culture and language do not get in the way of healing or recovery. Instead, those shared community values and experiences, along with dimensions of faith and spirituality, resiliency, key relationships, family bonds and pride in where you came from — your culture — becomes a source of strength and support.
Write, call or talk to legislators — both local and federal — to support efforts to:
Call the NAMI Helpline at
text "NAMI" to 741741