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Raising Awareness of Minority Mental Health Issues

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

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Everyone’s mental health journey looks different. One of the major factors that contribute to these differences is identity, culture, and background. During National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to highlight the importance of making mental healthcare accessible and culturally-competent for minority individuals.

Minority Mental Health

When providing care for minority individuals, there are unique struggles of being a racial or ethnic minority. These struggles include stigma and discrimination, whether explicit or implicit. They also include harmful power and oppression dynamics that play out across each person’s everyday life and without careful attention can play out in therapy. Because of these experiences, therapy for minority individuals needs to be culturally-competent and, if appropriate, include space to process through the challenges that come with being a minority.

This year in particular, it’s important to reflect on the disparities in healthcare and mental healthcare for minority individuals due to the pandemic. As described by the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2020, communities of color face increased risk of health issues and financial stress due to their circumstances, which results in reduced access to healthcare services and negative mental health outcomes. By bringing a person’s whole-self and background into session, patients and therapists can work through the impacts of racial or ethnic identity, community, and life circumstances together.

Minority Mental Health and Eating Disorders

Individuals of all cultural backgrounds experience eating disorders. By adopting a holistic perspective and looking at all aspects of a person’s identity, we can take an intentional, culturally-sensitive approach to treatment.

To begin to understand the intersection of minority identities and eating disorders, here are some considerations:

  • Stigma and discrimination both affect mental health: The stigma or discrimination faced in daily life by individuals can be a major impact on mental health and eating disorders. This harmful experience causes stress, trauma, grief, and many other negative emotions that may express themselves in an eating disorder. They may also show up as a mood disorder such as anxiety or depression.

  • Cultural beliefs exist about food: While food seems to be the center of nearly all cultures, each group has different beliefs about what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat. Cultural influences, as well as effects of the privileged majority’s culture, can determine an individual’s ideas about appearance, weight, eating and may play a role in the development of an eating disorder.

  • Cultural beliefs exist about beauty: Similarly, different cultures hold their communities to unique beauty standards. What’s considered “beautiful” in one culture may be different than what’s “beautiful” in another. Further, minority cultural standards may or may not be in line with the beauty standards established in white, male, cis-gendered, straight, majority culture, which can be difficult to navigate for individuals. Whatever messages are internalized may influence the development of an eating disorder.

  • There is stress associated with immigration: If an individual immigrated from another country, they may have faced a high amount of stress during the move. Even after the move, they may experience stress from integrating into a new community, learning a new language, or getting used to a different way of life and culture. This stress may result in an eating disorder, addiction, or a mood disorder.

  • There are cultural beliefs about therapy: Lastly, whether or not someone with an eating disorder seeks professional help depends largely on their cultural beliefs about emotions, therapy, and accessing healthcare. With eating disorders, it’s vital to begin professional treatment right away and finding a culturally competent therapist who is skilled in this area is essential.

When therapists take these considerations into session with them, they’re well on their way to practicing culturally-competent care.

How Coral Reef Counseling Is Raising Awareness

I am proud to observe National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July. While I constantly strive for culturally-competent care year-round, I am eager to learn more about how to best serve my minority clients by staying tuned to the Office of Minority Health. As an ally and therapist, I am ready to address your cultural and identity needs and help you on your mental health journey.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.

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