Cultural Competence and Disparities in Accessing Care
The Need for Cultural Competence
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.
Our culture — defined by a group’s beliefs, customs, values and way of thinking, behaving, and communicating — affects how someone views mental health conditions, describes symptoms, communicates with health care providers such as doctors and mental health professionals, and receives and responds to treatment.
Cultural competence is the behaviors, attitudes and skills that allow a health care provider to work effectively with different cultural groups. Finding culturally competent providers is important because they understand the essential role that culture plays in life and health. A culturally competent provider includes cultural beliefs, values, practices, and attitudes in your care to meet your unique needs.
Find out about the Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services Standards developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “provide effective, equitable, understandable, and respectful quality care and services that are responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy, and other communication needs.”
Disparities In Accessing Care
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.