• Culturally Responsive Mental Health Practices

    Culturally Responsive Mental Health Practices

    Culturally Responsive Mental Health Practices

    In 1989, Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to acknowledge the unique aspects of a person’s identity as impacted by systems of discrimination and oppression. Aspects of identity include and are not limited to— gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion, age, language, health beliefs, etc. People who are repeatedly exposed to discrimination can develop low self-esteem, have higher levels of stress, resort to substance use, and have an increased risk for developing anxiety and depression as they are 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health diagnosis. Often, people who experience discrimination are accustomed to the negative treatment and can normalize mental health concern, which has a generational impact. Discrimination in a person’s daily life can include, but not limited to— given poor service, being treated as if they are unintelligent, scary, dishonest or inferior.

    Culturally responsive mental health practice cultivates an environment that considers the holistic intersectional identity of a person while considering the impact of systems of oppressions on their lived experience. Culturally responsive practice honors the individual experience of each person by practicing humility, committing to growth and continued learning.

    Culturally Responsive mental health practice can provide insight into how a patient:

    Seeks or avoids treatment
    Perceives and expresses symptoms
    Copes with stress
    Adheres to treatment plans
    Attaches stigma to mental illness

    Culturally Responsive mental health practice involves a clinician who respects differences, cultivates an environment in which clients can share their unique lived experience, are committed to continuous learning and acknowledging the systems of oppression that clients navigate on a daily basisUtilizing culturally responsive mental health practice can include relying of the client’s personal, religious, or life values that guide their decisions to help improve their mental health.

    Important terms related to Culturally Responsive Practice:

    Ally: Someone who supports a group other than one’s own (in terms of multiple identities such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, etc.). An ally acknowledges oppression and actively commits to reducing their own complicity, investing in strengthening their own knowledge and awareness of oppression.

    Color Blind: The racial ideology that posits the best way to end discrimination is by treating individuals as equally as possible, without regard to race, culture, or ethnicity. The term “colorblind” de‐emphasizes, or ignores, race and ethnicity, a large part of one’s identity.

    Equity: The fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that prevent the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is necessary to provide equal opportunities to all groups.

    Microaggressions : The verbal, nonverbal and environmental slights, snubs, insults or actions, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon discriminatory belief systems.

    Privilege: Unearned social power (set of advantages, entitlements, and benefits) accorded by the formal and informal institutions of society to the members of a dominant group. Privilege tends to be invisible to those who possess it, because its absence (lack of privilege) is what calls attention to it. I

    System of Oppression: Conscious and unconscious, non-random and organized harassment, discrimination, exploitation, discrimination, prejudice and other forms of unequal treatment that impact different groups. Sometimes is used to refer to systemic racism.

    Internalized Racism: Internalized racism is a phenomenon that occurs when a group oppressed by racism supports the supremacy and dominance of a racist system by maintaining or participating in the set of attitudes, behaviors, social structures and ideologies that reinforce that system.

    Implicit Bias: Negative associations expressed automatically that people unknowingly hold; also known as unconscious or hidden bias. Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not even be aware that those biases exist within themselves.


    University of Washington.  Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Glossary. https://environment.uw.edu/about/diversity-equity-inclusion/tools-and-additional-resources/glossary-dei-concepts/

    Quality Interactions. 13 June 2019. 6 Culturally Sensitive Ways to Approach Mental Health. https://www.qualityinteractions.com/blog/6-culturally-sensitive-ways-to-approach-mental-health

    Education Development Center. July 2020. 4 Ways to Make Mental Health Care Culturally. Responsive. https://www.edc.org/4-ways-make-mental-health-care-culturally-responsive

    UCLA Newsroom. 13 January 2016. Discrimination can be harmful to your mental health. https://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/discrimination-can-be-harmful-to-your-mental-health

    CNN Health 8 November 2021. Discrimination of any kind can lead to much higher risk of mental and behavioral issues for young people, study finds.https://www.cnn.com/2021/11/08/health/ageism-racism-sexism-discrimination-mental-health-effects-wellness/index.html