Culturally Competent Mental Health Services

Race, ethnicity, beliefs, norms and values determine culture. Culture involves the history leading to a group’s economic, social and political status. It defines roles and behaviors. All of this affects families’ willingness to seek and receive mental health services for their children. Their emphasis on treatments, including ceremonies and rituals, will be helpful for you to know to provide culturally appropriate services. When mental health services are culturally competent in approach and delivery, the services are more effective.

Culture governs people’s ideas of what constitutes normal and abnormal behavior. It also shapes people’s understanding of the cause of certain disturbances in behavior and emotion and how they describe those disturbances. Culturally competent mental health providers respond to children’s and families’ needs, understanding they are influenced by their culture and using families’ culture in the treatment process.

Why provide culturally competent mental health services?

Cultural competence is critical to providing effective mental health services to children and families. Your organization cannot be totally competent unless you are culturally competent. You will be a more effective mental health provider when you reach each group that your organization is responsible to serve.

It is important to be sensitive to culture when marketing and providing mental health services. People will not benefit from mental health services unless they understand how the services fit their needs—needs that are shaped by culture. You provide culturally competent services in a way that is appropriate to families’ languages and cultures. You show you value diversity and understand what happens when cultures interact.

Is cultural competence really necessary?

Minnesota’s population of children is largely Caucasian. However, children of color are over represented among children receiving publicly funded mental health services. Minnesota is home to Latino, Native American and African American and Russians, including the largest Hmong population in North America—about 60,000 people—and a growing Somali community. The culture, medical practices, definition and acceptance of mental health disorders in each of these communities is often quite different.

In the array of mental health disorders, emotional disturbances may be attributed to religious, supernatural, spiritual, interpersonal, physical or biological causes. This, combined with language barriers, may contribute to families’ inability to explain symptoms of emotional disturbances in their children and your ability to provide treatment to them.

Culturally competent services and outreach strategies are essential to providing effective mental health services. Cultural competence in the delivery of mental health services is a business necessity, not a frill.

How do I become culturally competent?

To expand your organization’s outreach, it’s vital to recognize culture’s profound effect on treatment outcomes and your willingness to learn more about it. Assess your own organization for strengths and begin to:

• gather background information about the communities you serve

• establish contacts to learn the communities’ concerns and priorities

• develop relationships so you can build trust with the community

• participate in training to help develop cultural competent skills .

Where can I get more information?

In Minnesota, public mental health services for children must be sensitive to cultural differences and special needs. The Minnesota Department of Human Services is helping providers offer culturally competent mental health services.

• The Minnesota Department of Human Services’ Children’s Mental Health Division provides direct technical assistance to Hennepin, Kandiyohi, Dakota, Ramsey and Wright counties through the Cultural Competency Pilot Partnering Project. These counties are planning and developing a comprehensive culturally competent system of care, which will then be expanded statewide. Providers can use the strategies from this project to increase their capacity to serve diverse populations and become more cost effective. For more information, call 651-431-2322.

• Minnesota’s Statewide Cultural Competency Strategic Plan for Children’s Mental Health is one of the few such plans in the nation. It identifies challenges and plans for following culturally competent practices in children’s mental health services, putting Minnesota in the forefront of service provision with state-of-the-art strategies in serving diverse populations. This effort is being complemented with the development of Organizational Guidelines for Delivering Culturally competent Services. For more information regarding the organizational guidelines call 651-431-2321.

The Directory of Minnesota Organizations Serving Diverse Populations is a comprehensive list of nonprofit social service organizations; tribal governments; and state agencies that identify themselves as serving culturally specific or diverse populations in Minnesota. It lists providers of child welfare and children’s mental health services so families know which providers are best prepared to meet their needs.

• A 2008 Health Resources directory, created by the Refugee Health Program at the Minnesota Department of Health, includes Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington counties.

• The Specialty Provider Network Development Project is a network development of organizations designed to provide technical assistance and facilitate training of culturally specific, multicultural and mainstream mental health service providers to help provide services to diverse populations. For more information call 651-431-2321.

• Guidelines for Cultural Competency is a publication under development to aid county administration, social service agencies and mental health collaboratives deliver services to people of all cultural backgrounds. The guidelines will help you become more culturally competent providers in Minnesota.

For more information on cultural competency in mental health care delivery systems, contact:

Minnesota Department of Human Services
Children’s Mental Health Division
P.O. Box 64985
St. Paul, MN 55164-0985
651-431-2321

Children Services Home Page.


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