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July 2019

Culture Matters to Mental Health

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This is an edited guest post by Katherine Ponte.

Katherine Ponte is mental health advocate, writer, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder of ForLikeMinds. Katherine was diagnosed with depression and then bipolar disorder while a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. She serves on the Board of NAMI-NYC. 

The prevalence of mental health conditions in the Hispanic community has been shown to be no more than the rest of the U.S. population. Yet, Hispanics receive treatment at 50% of the rate of the broader population. Culture matters. 

I am an invisible minority, but I share a similar experience in many respects to the Hispanic community. I am a child of immigrants from a low-to-moderate socio-economic background, who spoke no English when they arrived in Canada. In college, this bi-cultural experience, an important aspect of my identity, made me feel out of place. I couldn’t find others like me until I found the Portuguese student community. It felt safe and comfortable.

I am not all opposed to social integration. To the contrary, I believe it is a necessity, but it should not require shedding our cultural identity. Societies and communities can be made stronger when cultural minorities reconcile their backgrounds with the “outside” world. Retaining awareness of cultural background within a community and raising awareness from outside the community can greatly benefit mental health.  The following are specific ways to achieve these benefits.

  1. Early childhood experiences. These have been shown to have a significant impact on mental health. Socio-economic background, parenting style, cultural experiences, and historical and contemporary treatment of specific minority communities may have a strong impact on mental health. We need to talk about mental health issues in their full context, which lead to a deeper appreciation of contributing factors.
  2. Talking about mental health. It’s difficult. By virtue of being a minority, you feel others don’t understand you. And because you have a mental illness, you again feel like people can’t understand you. Talking about mental illness requires a safe environment, an environment free of stigma, discrimination, and stereotypes. This should be a place where people don’t have to explain their culture’s history and mental illness and how the two are connected.
  3. Coping strategies. Cultural competency works, and we need more of it. Culturally sensitive treatment approaches can make a difference in individual outcomes. Culturally specific coping strategies such as faith-based approaches may be very effective for certain demographics. Some minority communities face greater challenges accessing care. Family communications, which can be critical to developing a good support network, can vary among cultures as well.

Bringing people together to self-empower strengthens the whole, makes our mental health community stronger and better. Mental health for all requires that we have mutual respect and appreciation of our unique backgrounds so that we can make sure that all people get the most effective treatment possible.



ForLikeMinds.com is an online community for people living with or supporting someone with mental illness, substance use, or a stressful life event. It allows people to anonymously connect one-on-one and in groups based on condition and event and personal background such as ethnicity and race. Learn more. Culture matters to us!

Katherine Ponte is mental health advocate, writer, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder of ForLikeMinds. Katherine was diagnosed with depression and then bipolar disorder while a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. She serves on the Board of NAMI-NYC.