Reducing mental illness stigmas with multicultural competency

With an increase in the number of international students who visited the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Counseling and Psychological Services after President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, CAPS stresses the importance of having multiculturally competent counselors.

“It’s something that the mental health field has struggled with so we are still working on it,” said John Mark Krejci, Ph.D., a psychologist for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Counseling and Psychological Services. “But all good therapists are trying to provide culturally competent therapy.”

After Trump’s orders, many students expressed their concerns about it during counseling sessions, according to a Daily Nebraskan story. In addition, a number of UNL’s international students visit CAPS with a range of problems, from academic stress to issues of social and cultural adjustment.

Yet, in many cultures, particularly in Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan, stigmas about mental illness prevent people from accepting it as a real illness.

Multiculturally competent counselors make an effort to show respect for a client’s culture while assessing the client as a complex individual with their own unique background and belief system, Krejci said.

“Culture shapes how people perceive health and illness,” Krejci said. “How they describe their symptoms, whether they seek services, who they go to for services, what types of social support they have, and what type of coping style they use.”

Hardik Kundariya came to Lincoln from Gujarat, India, to pursue his undergraduate degree at UNL and then continue into graduate studies for agronomy. After living in Lincoln for almost 10 years, he noticed the difference in how people perceive mental illness.

“The basic barrier for mental health is the education because many people don’t recognize mental health as a big issue,” Kundariya said. “If you have physical disabilities or something which you can clearly see but there is a mental illness is something which common people can’t recognize.”

As a result, many people who suffer from mental illness do not seek help.

People in Japan also perceive mental health similarly to people in India. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world with close to 20 percent per 100, 000 persons. UNL student Ryudo Komesu, who was originally from Okinawa, Japan, cited the stressors that can lead to mental illness in Japan.

“The highest (rates) are in the busiest places,” said Komesu, a child, youth and family studies and management major in UNL. “Some of the leading causes of suicide would be like health problems whether that’s physical or mental. Then, I know for sure that there is this problem inside companies like bullying. It’s still a pretty prominent problem inside the society.”

In Japan, it’s common for employees to work overtime, which adds pressure and stress, putting a strain on their mental health.

“People don’t tend to talk about their personal lives in Japan,” Komesu said.

Because of that, people don’t tend to open up about their mental health.

“In Asian cultures there the idea of ‘saving face’, like you don’t want to lose face,” Krejci said. “Family members could talk about it more probably about mental illness but outside of the family, you’d be losing face to admit that you have a mental illness. It could make your family look bad.”

Nonetheless, people are becoming more aware of mental illnesses in Asian countries because of the increase in facilities and the internet.

CAPS hopes that UNL’s international students continue to seek help when needed.

“We encourage international students to allow (CAPS) to help you work through any difficulty that is becoming excessively distressing or significantly impacting your functioning in school,” Krejci said. “Counseling is proven to be effective in helping a wide range of mental and emotional suffering, and we would like to help any student who is in need.”








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