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Reporting on
Mental Health

-Why Culture Matters-

Cultural sensitivity is key to accurate reporting that is relevant to members of your community who are part of the cultural groups being depicted. Understanding how culture and ethnicity impact the way individuals experience mental illness and how their communities respond to it is critical. From the point of view of the mental health care system, services and support need to be in tune with and respectful of individual healthcare beliefs, practices and the cultural and linguistic needs of the community. Otherwise, diagnoses may be incorrect and services or treatment offered could prove ineffective. Likewise, messages about these topics need to demonstrate understanding and cultural sensitivity in order to increase the authenticity and richness of storytelling and character.

 Did you know?
Access to language interpreters is limited. Among non-English speakers who said they needed an interpreter during a health care visit, fewer than one-half (48 percent) said they always or usually had one.

Who gets help? Who doesn’t? Why? 
  • Racial and ethnic populations experience inequities such as less access to and use of needed mental health services, often because they experience lower socioeconomic status, language or cultural barriers in greater proportion. When individuals from these populations do receive services, they tend to be of lower quality. 
  • Although the U.S. Surgeon General called for action to address the striking disparities in mental health services affecting racial and ethnic populations as compared with whites nearly 10 years ago, to date, not enough progress has been made to address these disparities.
Adapted for this newsletter from Frequently Asked Questions: Mental Health (CalMHSA)

Suggestions for Reporting on Mental Health Suicide Prevention Group

Taking culture into consideration when writing will give your stories greater depth. Consider these tips to make your stories more accurate and your interviews more effective:

  • Consider the inclusion of an interpreter when interviewing an individual whose primary language is not English.
  • When appropriate, explore how culture affects your subject's reaction to a diagnosis or the acceptance of that diagnosis by the character’s family. You could also consider the cultural barriers someone might encounter when choosing to tell family members they are accessing mental health services in their community.
  • Consider the challenges someone may go through when deciding whether or not to explore the mental health services available to them. Will the provider speak their language, will they find someone they can connect with or relate to?
  • Take into account how someone in a particular culture may experience or interpret symptoms of a mental illness differently than those in the mainstream. For example, they may use a religious/spiritual explanation for what’s happening to them, which has much different implications than if they believe it is a medical condition.

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