Tuesday, 19 July 2011"Minorities face many obstacles to seeking treatment for mental health issues, and one of the most significant appears to be cultural stigmas against admitting and getting help for mental illness."*
The Detroit Press recently published an article on how the Detroit East Community Mental Health Center is reducing stigma around mental illness by holding a fair called "Summer Blast" that occurred on July 9th. Their main challenge was to get minorities to seek treatment for mental illness and take away the scariness of doing so. In fact, they even got referrals as a result of the fair.
The Executive Director of the Detroit-Wayne County Community Mental Health Agency had some opinions about the stigma surrounding minorities and mental health, that minorities could have "fear of being ostracized, not fitting in, and being thought of as a second-class citizen." As a minority reading this, it resonates strongly.
Growing up in an Asian family and community made talking about feelings and emotional struggles difficult. It was always an unspoken code that one does not speak about their feelings because doing so and expressing sadness or inability to cope is a sign of weakness. So when I was struggling throughout middle and high school, as most teenagers do during that time, no one in my family was emotionally available; my dad would say, "just get over it and deal." In fact, a close friend of mine who was also Asian and struggling with intense feelings of depression and self-harm, was reprimanded by her mom for hurting herself. Another student I knew who brought a knife to school intending to hurt himself was hospitalized and afterwards, he yelled at me and made me feel bad for saying anything to the counselors. A common theme that ran through Asian families of teenagers feeling suicidal was that they were selfish for wanting to end their life because they must not appreciate having a promising future in the United States.
I don't recall any education in health class or any other class about mental health. Because no one really talked about mental illness, it seemed scary to bring up anything out of the ordinary and counselors at school were made out to be the bad guys who would institutionalize you the moment you expressed any feelings of hurt or despair. The worse part is that they involve the parents, so if the parents misunderstood the severity of the depressive disorder, having their day interrupted to speak with the school resulted in disciplinary action at home. Did this make any sense? At the time, it was terrifying. No one wanted to get help for an illness if it meant getting in trouble for not being like all the other family members. Not only did Asian families in my community not know what mental illness was, but they also made the teenagers feel bad for even feeling that way. It was as if we had a choice.
Getting older, getting educated and eventually working in this field has taught me a lot about mental health, depressive disorders and proper ways to deal with it. At Families for Depression Awareness, our goal is to educate the family members of those with depressive disorders to avoid the experiences I mention above. For minorities with a depressive disorder, the stigma surrounding it is a huge barrier to overcome in seeking treatment and can be terrifying. For family members, it's hard to wrap your mind around it as a disease, not just a state of mind. Taking that first step to seek treatment as a family makes strides to reduce stigma around mental illness, even if it's only in your community.
-Kimberly, Outreach Specialist
*Tusa, Detroit Free Press, "Minorities lag in mental health treatment, but some are working to change that." 16-7-11 http://www.freep.com/article/20110717/FEATURES08/107170309/Minorities-lag-mental-health-treatment-some-working-change-that