By Jose Melendez
Hispanic Outreach Manager
Former Hispanic Outreach Assistant, Family Service of the Chautauqua Region
After working closely with the U.S. Census Bureau we have learned that our community has grown in number from people of different cultures.
According to a report, in Chautauqua County, 6,401 record ancestry from Puerto Rico and 851 from Mexico. About 1,000 people note their origin from throughout South America, the Dominican Republic or Spain.
It is very important for our community to be aware and also to be sensitive about understanding other cultures and learn how to deal more effectively and to provide the best service possible.
Our agency understands the value of providing services to those individuals with a mental health diagnosis by providing trained, bilingual and culturally sensitive staff.
There is a growing realization that celebrating cultural diversity nourishes the psychological well-being and pride of those in historically oppressed groups. At the same time, social workers and other mental health professionals have had to acknowledge the possible impact of prejudice and hostility and how it further complicates mental illness.
Recognizing the significance of cultural diversity is not a new concept in mental health. However, its role as an effective tool to treatment has just begun to emerge.
Professionals in local, state and federal mental health agencies have made a commitment to finding culturally diverse, trained professionals who can address the needed changes required to provide and maintain a service network that will be flexible and responsive to the needs of this multicultural population of men, women and children.
Historically, people of color-particularly African Americans, Latino Americans, Asian Americans and First Nations peoples-who have suffered oppression and continue to endure subtle forms of racism, prejudice and discrimination, have their lives further complicated by a variety of mental illnesses. However, there is evidence that current treatment approaches do not address the significant impact of those problems.
According to Bell (1996), "to underestimate the impact of discriminatory behavior on self-esteem would be counter therapeutic." He suggests placing a special emphasis on the strength of ethnic identity and ethnic socialization and how it reduces the negative feelings that result from discrimination. His research supports the theory that strong ethnic identity does not allow negative interactions or the anticipation of them to become a dominant force in the life of the multicultural individual who has a strong sense of ethnic identity.
If we are to effectively treat this population, based on current research, suggestions regarding contact and relationship building should include the following objectives:
Relieve anxiety and fear about treatment (negative attitudes) which may be based on their families' previous experience with the health and social welfare bureaucracy.
Use an informal, friendly style to defuse anxiety and to establish initial rapport.
Respect the traditional sex- and age-role relationships of a particular ethnic group.
Offer a brief explanation of therapy, its similarity to familiar roles of cultural healers and the relief it offers for the client's symptoms.
Communicate warmth and acceptance to the client who may have natural cultural paranoia and may be expecting distance and a superior attitude.
Share some limited personal information for the purpose of self-disclosure.
Build rapport and increase the client's self-disclosure level by respecting the pace of discussing culturally sensitive topics.
Emphasize confidentiality in a business-like relationship.
Structure sessions with flexible, clear guidelines.
Therapists who successfully exercise these principles are more effective in working with individuals of multicultural groups regardless of the psychological level of their mental health needs.
Once a relationship is established, common psychological identity issues among culturally diverse populations are identified and may include some of the following:
Ethnic-identity confusion, conflict, ambivalence
Self-hatred, negative identification, rebellion
Cultural value conflict
Family role conflict, husband-wife role conflict
Women's liberation, emancipation, sexuality, divorce
Dating, mate selection, intermarriage
Youth delinquency, gangs, rebellion
Major mental illness (acute, chronic psychosis, affective disorder)
Inadequate treatment in public, private facilities (few bilingual staff members)
Stigma of mental illness
Lack of support system
In conclusion, culture is one of the most powerful forces in our world; let us embrace it.
Source: Department of Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario
Family Service of the Chautauqua Region provides interpretation services thanks to funding from Chautauqua County Office of Mental Hygiene.