BRIDGING THE GAP: MULTICULTURAL TREATMENT FOR THE BLACK COMMUNITY

Racial and gender bias in the American culture has had a negative impact on my life. There is a need for a multicultural organization focused on African Americans needing mental health care. The purpose of the organization is to advocate, educate and empower African Americans on the importance of psychological wellness. African Americans have been neglected when it comes to receiving mental health services and treatment. Newsome and Gladding (2013) emphasized as practitioners, we have to be culturally competent in working with a diverse population. While interning, I noticed how difficult and counterproductive it can be to diagnose because it can cause internal and external stigmas. According to Kornblum, Julian and Smith (2007) people are not a diagnosis because they display manifestations of the symptoms but their behaviors violate the social norms and expectations. For example, on the pre-admission questionnaires, there is a question stating, “Do you hear voices that no one else hears?” A consumer from a faith system that strongly believes in hearing God’s voice does not mean the individual should be placed in psychological care. When we put labels on consumers due to their cultural values, we violate their human rights that can do more harm to them. Some diagnostic symptoms may not be the proper measurement for a culture. The context of assessment may be defined different in another culture. There are cultural biases in questions that result into accurate diagnosis.  Many practitioners have misdiagnosed African American women and overlooked the possibilities of depression. The manifestation of depression may be different for an African American patient than a Caucasian patient (Williams, 2008). The possibility of why an African American woman has been overlooked because they do not exhibit the traditional symptoms of depression. Jones and Shorter-Gooden (2003) explained African American women who experience depression appear confident, tough and in control versus fatigue, lethargy, or gloominess. They tend to overcompensate in one aspect of their life to cover up where they lack as a person. Many mental health practitioners associate depression from external loss, such as, job loss, or divorce. Research findings indicated African American women experience depression from internal loss, such as, sense of self (Jones & Shorter-Gooden, 2003).

The greatest barrier for African Americans to seek mental health services is their mistrust toward health care professionals. Historically, scientific reasoning (e.g. Tuskegee Syphilis Study) has been utilized as racial humiliation and social control (Williams, 2008). While interning, African American consumers would decline psychopharmacological treatment because their mistrust towards the mental health practitioner. They appeared more guarded and paranoid than other ethnic groups who seek treatment at the facility. In most cases, African Americans are brought by law enforcement or referred by the attending emergency room physician for mental health treatment. There have been countless African American consumers who would disclose using illicit drugs to self-medicate because they are skeptical about psychotropic medication. It was alarming to see few African Americans seek mental health at the facility. It motivated and change my direction to become an advocate for this population. As a practitioner, it is important to educate other mental health professionals and the community on the vitality of mental health wellness. In order for mental health professionals to gain their trust, we have to understand the historical impact of their ethnic background, value system, religion, and social class. We have to approach them differently and meet them where they are in order to build a relationship. 

References

Jones, C. & Shorter-Gooden, K. (2003). Shifting: The double lives of African American women in America. New York: Harper Collins.

Kornblum, W. & Julian, J. (2012). Social problems. (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Newsome, D. W. & Gladding, S. T. (2013). Clinical mental health counseling in community and agency settings. (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Williams, T. M. (2009). Black pain: It just looks like we’re not hurting. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Cicely Johnson