July 26, 2019

Overcoming cultural barriers to reduce mental health stigma

Understanding why Latinos are less likely to seek treatment for mental health conditions.

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping reduce the stigma underrepresented groups experience in regard to seeking timely treatment for mental health conditions.

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, Latinos are less likely than other ethnic groups to seek mental health treatment when compared to the rest of the population. Citing a 2001 Surgeon General’s report, NAMI stated that only 20% of Latinos with symptoms of a mental health condition talk to a doctor about their concerns, and only 10% contact a mental health specialist. The result is that many Latinos do not get the treatment they need, which could lead to their mental health deteriorating to the point where it can become disabling.

“It’s in everyone’s interest, including Latinos, to better understand the importance of good mental health, and to know that there’s no shame in seeking treatment when mental health challenges exist,” said Juan-Carlos Zuberbuhler, MD, a board-certified child/adolescent/adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Hills — Crenshaw.

“For many Latinos, talking about mental health issues is difficult for cultural reasons — including feeling shame and fear that others will judge or label you,” Dr. Zuberbuhler said. “Don’t let fear of a negative perception win, because when left untreated, mental health disorders can have severe consequences. The fact is, 1 in 5 people is affected by mental illness, and seeking help is the right thing to do. Attending to your mental health, just like your physical health, is a sign of strength and self-care.”

Dr. Zuberbuhler emphasized that you won’t lose your privacy when seeking treatment for a mental health condition for yourself or a loved one. Any discussion with your mental health provider, as well as your diagnosis and treatment plan, will be kept confidential, he explained. “No family member, employer, or insurance company can access your medical records without your permission,” he added.

If mental health is an issue of concern to you, Dr. Zuberbuhler recommends the following:

  • Slowly get back into doing old routines you did when you were feeling better. For example, get a workout buddy or walking friend to help motivate you to become active once again.
  • Disconnect from your smart phone, tablets, and computers and connect with real people. Humans are biologically driven to connect with others. Just like you can’t solely live off sweets, your human interactions need to be much more than social media.
  • Even though there’s an issue that needs attention, you can still put it to the side and engage in your work or hobbies. Don’t sacrifice your enjoyment while you work on solving an issue elsewhere.

Knowing when to seek help

If your mental health is a concern, talk to your doctor or reach out to a friend or loved one for support. Mental health conditions are common and treatable, and help is available.

Kaiser Permanente offers information on how to better understand mental health. Also, visit FindYourWords.org for more about fighting stigma, raising awareness, and spreading hope.