Magellan Health Insights: Dr. Ghani, thank you for chatting with us today. Why do you think it’s important to be aware of minority mental health?
Dr. Shareh Ghani: Many psychological conditions have a connection to the individual’s perception of themselves. How comfortable do we feel in our environment? How well do we fit into what is seen as the norm? It’s human nature to want to fit in. Being a minority myself as an immigrant to the U.S. from Pakistan, I can see that there is extra pressure when you may be uncertain about fitting in or what is expected.
Seeking treatment for mental health unfortunately carries a degree of stigma for everyone and minorities are much less likely to seek or receive treatment for mental health conditions. For those who don’t speak the primary language or do not speak fluently, it can be even more difficult to seek these services and treatment. In addition, there may not be bilingual providers available or covered in the network, if the patient has insurance coverage – which is less likely for minority members. We are starting to see improvements, but for immigrants and members of other minority groups, it can be even more difficult to ask for help.
Magellan Health Insights: Why wouldn’t a minority member seek out care for mental health?
Dr. Shareh Ghani: There are many reasons. Fundamentally, these members are often challenged by the complications of poverty and social determinants of health (SDOH). Language, i.e. communication and or comprehension, can be a barrier. Beyond language, it may not be culturally acceptable to ask for help. It may seem embarrassing. Which leads us to stigma. The person’s community at large, the clinicians and physicians providing care, and even the patients themselves may see it as stigma. People openly discuss their diabetes but not their depression.
In addition, these patients are less likely to be routinely screened. They also may not be able to specify that their symptoms are symptoms of a behavioral health condition. In the U.S., patients come to me and say they think they may be depressed. In India, my patients would describe physical symptoms – like gastrointestinal problems. This means they may go through a battery of tests to eliminate physical diseases before behavioral health is addressed.
Magellan Health Insights: How can providers best support minority mental health?
Dr. Shareh Ghani: Paying extra attention and being aware of the cultural needs of every individual is key. In order to come up with a successful treatment plan, providers need to be knowledgeable about cultural factors. And they need to ask about what their patients preferences are related to care. Unless and until we talk to each person about their comfort level working with a provider of a particular gender, someone from their own culture or sexual orientation, or even age group, we can’t provide the best treatment. We, as patients, are most likely to speak openly when we feel comfortable. Being able to speak openly with a therapist or provider will make it more likely that the member will be accurately diagnosed and that treatment will be more successful.
Providing culturally competent care is critical – all care must be culturally competent care. What does that mean? We must be able to provide care to patients with diverse values, beliefs and behaviors and meet patients’ social, cultural and linguistic needs. We must acknowledge the importance of culture, recognize the potential impact of cultural differences, and adapt services to meet culturally unique needs. By taking training and educating ourselves on cultural competence we can reduce the racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare and give all of our members the best care.