Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Erase Mental Health Stigmas

With July recognized as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, Kaiser Permanente is raising awareness to erase the stigma and cultural barriers that underrepresented groups face in regard to seeking timely treatment for mental illness. 

According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, Latinos are less likely to seek mental health treatment. Citing a 2001 Surgeon General’s report, NAMI stated only 20% of Latinos with symptoms of a psychological disorder talk to a doctor about their concerns. Furthermore, only 10% contact a mental health specialist. As a result, many Latinos are not getting the treatment they need, and their mental health often deteriorates to the point where it can become disabling.

“It’s in everyone’s interest, including Latinos, to better understand the importance of good mental health, and to know that there’s no shame in seeking treatment when mental health challenges exist,” said Dr. Juan-Carlos Zuberbuhler, a board-certified child/adolescent/adult psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. 

“For many Latinos, talking about mental health issues is difficult for cultural reasons – including feeling shame and fear that others will judge or label you,” Dr. Zuberbuhler said. “Don’t let fear of a negative perception win, because when left untreated, mental health disorders can have severe consequences. The fact is, one in five people is affected by mental illness, and seeking help is the right thing to do! Attending to your mental health, just like your physical health, is a sign of strength and self-care.”

Dr. Zuberbuhler emphasized that you won’t lose your privacy when seeking treatment for a mental health disorder for yourself or a loved one. Any discussion with your mental health provider, as well as your diagnosis and treatment plan, will be kept confidential, he explained. “No family member, employer or insurance company can access your medical records without your permission,” he added. 

About 43.8 million people in the U.S. experience mental illness in a given year, according to NAMI. Individuals living with mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.

“A person with good mental health is able to balance mental, physical, social or spiritual spheres in their life,” Dr. Zuberbuhler noted. “Neglecting, ignoring or suffering in one of these areas will often affect the other spheres, and will likely negatively affect your mental and overall health.” 

If mental health is an issue of concern to you, Dr. Zuberbuhler recommends the following: 

Slowly get back into doing old routines you did when you were feeling better. Ask a family member or friend to push you into taking steps to feel better. For example, get a workout buddy or walking friend to help motivate you to become active once again. 

Disconnect from your smart phone, tablets and computers and connect with real people. Humans are biologically driven to connect with others. Just like you can’t solely live off sweets, your human interactions need to be much more than social media.

Even though there’s an issue that needs attention, you can still put it to the side and engage in your work or hobbies. Don’t sacrifice your enjoyment while you work on solving an issue elsewhere. 


Dr. Zuberbuhler encourages all to know when to seek help. If mental health is an issue, you should fight through the stigma that often exists, and let someone you trust know that you’re struggling. 

“If you’re too anxious or depressed to advocate for yourself, it’s okay to ask a loved one to advocate for you,”

Dr. Zuberbuhler said. “Remember: it may take time to feel well again, but as long as you take that first step and seek help, you’re more likely to get well again.” 

Kaiser Permanente offers information on how to better understand mental health.

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve.