Mental health matters for POC

Austria

Mental health is still not taken seriously as physical health and is even dismissed in some cases. Demystifying and normalizing mental health is necessary, as it has to be done for physical health. What does mental health mean?
According to MentalHealth.gov, Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

From social anthropology to clinical psychology

Parissima is passionate about mental health. She’s currently studying clinical psychology at the Sigmund Freund University, in Vienna. Psychology is very diverse, ranging from media psychology to critical psychology, social psychology, consumer psychology and more. Parissima studied social anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Portrait of Parissima
Parissima – ©Aissa Sica

After her bachelor’s, she thought social anthropology was not specific enough. So she decided to turn toward Clinical psychology. Clinical psychology is “ a professional specialty concerned with diagnosing and treating diseases of the brain, emotional disturbance, and behavior problems.” To give examples, it can include depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior.  “Clinical psychologists do not prescribe medications to treat mental illness. Rather, they use psychological techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoanalytic therapy.”

Psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, and psychotherapist are often confused with each other. Therapist is the broader term to include psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists. Psychiatrists are the only one theoretically who can prescribe medications. Psychotherapists use different techniques compare to psychologists: hypnosis, cognitive behavior for instance and do not do research whereas psychologists can do research. Parissima wants to become a clinical psychologist. She already knows which specialization she will take: mental health for POC.

Support for POC in mental health to be improved

Cultural background can matters when it comes to looking for a therapist of colour. If a person of color (POC) is looking for POC practitioners in mental health, it may be difficult to find one, especially when the ethnic minority communities are small where they live. Why is it important for POC to be able to find POC practitioners? A practitioner with a similar cultural background to a patient of color might be more understanding and can relate to the experiences told by the patient. It makes the connection easier. A practitioner with a similar cultural background as their patient may have another perspective, offering more individualized support.

The decision to specialize in mental health for POC came to Parissima as she was looking for a therapist of colour herself. However, she could not find anyone since this specialization does not yet exist in Austria. She takes online courses to improve her knowledge. Melanin and Mental Health is a network connecting therapist from black and Latinx/Hispanic communities. They suggested much online training for a very affordable price, gathering mental health professionals of color and discussing specific topics.

Melaning and mental health, a mental health organization for POC

Eliza Boquin (left) and Eboni Harris (right) – Source : Houstonia

English-speaking countries, the most progressive for POC mental health

Although these online courses help her a lot, she needs to keep in mind how these courses are culturally adapted to the American culture. It is a huge challenge to take up since specializing in mental health for people of colour is still not developed in the field. The English-speaking countries are currently the most progressive regarding mental health for POC. For example in the United States, there are some organizations from ethnic minority communities ( South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network, Black Mental Health Alliance) which offer are some possibilities to find a practitioner of color. In the UK, you have for instance the Chinese Mental Health Association, Black Thrive. In Canada, there is the Black Health Alliance. Furthermore, you can find many online resources on mental health subjects with online courses, podcasts, blogs.

POC mental health, an underdeveloped field in Western Europe

In Western Europe, the situation is different. Parissim comes from Austria and has done some research on mental health for POC in German-speaking countries. She noticed Germany is more progressive on the subject than Austria. There is not only a lack of practitioners from minority groups. But also a lack of students from POC communities. Psychology studies are likely less attractive when you know that starting a career is hard.

POC student in psychology
Source : Vanderbilt University

Moreover, in Austria, the tuition fees for further education past the bachelor’s and master’s degree are expensive. So not everyone can afford these necessary studies. This is something that does not make any sense for Parissima. For her, it would homogenize the sector and excluding people who could bring an other perspective, are more culturally aware, and striving for progress. Pari is still studying and also been learning on the job mental health for the past three years. She is the leader of a psychological project called
“HOME”.

Investing herself in a refugee project

She works with a refugee organization called Verein Vielmehr für Alle. It is committed to making education and housing possible for refugees. They have different projects: “Projekt Schule für alle,” “Flüchtlinge Willkommen Österreich,” [HOME], “work: in.” “Projekt Schule für alle” aims to organize lessons for the 16+ refugees who can no longer integrate into the Austrian school system. Thanks to these courses, they can get their high school diploma (Matura). Pari manages the [HOME] project

.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Verein für Bildung, Wohnen & Teilhabe." Organizazion helping refugees

The project supports the promotion and maintenance of physical and mental health.  The students benefit from a lesson on healthcare once per week: she explains how the healthcare system works. She also talks about mental health topics like depression and anxiety, for instance. When she sees some of her students bothered or troubled, she does not hesitate to put her lessons aside. Some history courses can revive painful memories. Some history courses can revive painful memories. It is also important to remember many of these young refugees are left to themselves, and do not have a strong social network to turn to. Due to these reasons, Parissima also organises a buddy system connecting locals to the young refugees to connect the two groups. Unfortunately, individual psychological sessions are not yet available. The refugees from POC communities are the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health.

Migrants and refugees at higher risk of mental healh disorders

Migration requires for migrants and refugees adapting to a new social, cultural, economic environment which can affect the mental health. In addition to difficulties with the integration process, other factors may also play a role in mental health, particularly, when refugees have fled their countries due to war, persecution. It can lead to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or drug addiction, according to the Resonanzen article, which summarizes all the studies which have been made on refugees’ mental health.

Résultat de recherche d'images pour "refugees mental health"
Source : TheNewArab
Raising awareness of mental health for POC

Some might argue that ethnic backgrounds do not need to be taken into account when visiting a mental health professional but in many cases this not true. Some cultural can be understood only to one who is familiar with them, from growing up in the same cultural environment. These diverse experiences help Parissima to prepare her for her future career. She created a platform “Wir sind auch Wien” where events focused on mental health for and by the POC community are posted. Parissima also works in collaboration with a local POC psychotherapist who holds “psychological safe space” groups every two weeks where they discuss different mental health and self-care topics. However, much still remains to be done.


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