Ask Sophie

Q: Does mental health only apply to people of a certain ethnicity or socioeconomic status? – Coco Channel

Sophie Boutouis
Mercury Staff

Take a look at the world around you. In such a chaotic and unprecedented time, who isn’t struggling to preserve their sanity? Nobody is immune to pain, and anyone and everyone —  regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or socioeconomic status — can struggle with their mental health or be diagnosed with a subsequent disorder. 

While a 2017 report by the National Institute of Mental Health found that racial minorities actually experience mental illness at slightly lower rates than white people, official diagnosis requires access to treatment, and people of color — as well as members of the LGBT+ community — can face significant obstacles. Aisha Evans, staff psychologist at the SCC, said stigma is most to blame for preventing these groups getting the help they deserve.

“Even if you strip away the barrier of cost or insurance or those types of things, the stigma is still going to be there,” Evans said. “Minority individuals not only receive messages from their families and parents about why someone shouldn’t seek mental help, but from their peers as well. For some people, (mental health) isn’t viewed as being a real thing necessarily.”

Even when minorities do receive treatment, they tend to report much poorer quality. As therapy requires clients to showcase their deepest desires, instincts and vulnerabilities, not feeling heard or understood could cause them to seek another therapist or just give up on treatment altogether. Having a therapist who genuinely understands — if not identifies with — the client’s culture facilitates the healing process on a much deeper level. While certain directories allow minorities to find therapists that share their ethnicity, religion or sexuality, not all of them are conveniently located or even affordable. To ensure that these individuals can still receive culturally competent care, Evans is a proponent of more education.

“When we’re going to graduate school, we need to make sure we’re taking courses that teach us cultural humility and challenge some of those biases and beliefs that people hold,” Evans said. “So really taking the time to educate students and challenge them and not use a one-size-fits-all approach is crucial.”

Emotions are the essence of being human, but in some cultures the idea that talking about your feelings is taboo or a sign of weakness is deeply rooted. When it comes to treating people of such cultures, Evans said it’s important to meet them where they are.

“Before you even attempt to offer therapy, working towards building a sense of a relationship, (…)  getting to better know what (a client’s) needs are and what barriers prevent (them) from getting those needs met makes for much more effective service,” Evans said. “Building that trust is just so important.”

Given the current state of our country, it’s only normal to feel anxious, depressed or even lost. But a universal human experience that recent events have given rise to? Grief.

“When I say grief, I don’t just mean someone dying, you know, losing a loved one. I mean just grief overall, grief about a lost job, a loss of personal space like living in your dorm, a loss of the different activities that you had planned for last semester,” Evans said. “Thinking about this pandemic, everybody’s grieving now. We might be grieving different things, but we’re all in a period of grief.” 

Everyone has lost a piece of themselves to this pandemic. If you’re having a difficult time, don’t hesitate to email counselingcenter@utdallas.edu or call 972-883-2575 to make a virtual appointment with the Student Counseling Center. The Student Wellness Center also offers virtual support for issues related to stress management. Feel free to contact them at studentwellness@utdallas.edu if you have any questions or concerns. We’re all here for you.