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Text NAMI to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.

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Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) M–F, 7 a.m.–3 p.m. PT for free mental health info, referrals and support.

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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.

NAMI's Tips For Finding A Culturally Competent Provider

Research providers. Contact providers or agencies from your same cultural background or look for providers and agencies that have worked with people who have a similar cultural background.

Consult trusted friends and family for recommendations.

Look online or ask for referrals from cultural organizations in your community.

If you have health insurance, ask the health plan for providers that fit your cultural background.

Ask providers these questions:

  • Are you familiar with my community’s beliefs, values and attitudes toward mental health? If not, are you willing to learn about my cultural background and respect my perspective?
  • Do you have experience treating people from my cultural background?
  • Have you had cultural competence training?
  • Are you or members of your staff bilingual?
  • How would you include aspects of my cultural identity, such as age, faith, gender identity or sexual orientation, in my care?

Other Things You Can Do
Tell the provider about traditions, values, and beliefs that are important to you.

Tell the provider what role you want your family to play in your treatment.

Learn about your mental health condition, particularly how it affects people from your culture or community.

Look around the provider’s office for signs of inclusion. Who works there? Does the waiting room have magazines, signs and pamphlets for you and your community?

NAMI flier on Finding Mental Health Care that Fits Your Cultural Background