News & Stories

Sara Dugan, Pharm.D.

Making Cultural Awareness Part of the Mental Health Conversation

The unique mental health concerns of local Bhutanese refugees was just one topic explored when WKSU (89.7 FM) hosted a Mental Health Fair and Forum at the Akron-Summit County Public Library featuring Sara Dugan, Pharm.D., associate professor of pharmacy practice at Northeast Ohio Medical University; Charlie Brown, D.O., psychiatrist for child and adolescent psychiatry services at Akron Children’s Hospital; Jerry Craig, executive director of the County of Summit Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board; Diane Mang, outreach coordinator for NAMI Stark County; and retired Lt. Michael Woody, past president of the board of Crisis Intervention Team International.

Dr. Dugan contributed this report.

The Akron-Summit County Public Library’s downtown auditorium was filled with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds for the evening forum — all brought together by a drive to better our community mental health system. Diversity and cultural awareness were recurring themes throughout the discussion, and access to mental health care rose as a main concern.

Participants pointed out obstacles to seeking treatment. They also discussed strategies to navigate the challenges of mental illness that prevent full engagement in care, such as debilitating symptoms or insight impairment. Another area of concern was how to address racial tensions in interactions with law enforcement during a mental illness crisis. Above all,  there was a clear call to strive to improve the access to care and resources for patients, their families and friends.

Young adults from Akron’s Bhutanese community relayed concerns about the depression and post-traumatic stress disorder they see in their parents and grandparents, who may have been directly impacted by the ethnic conflict that resulted in more than 60,000 refugees fleeing to the United States. These young adults said they struggle with when to encourage their loved ones to seek care instead of just enduring the symptoms.

Representatives of the African-American community also identified some of their unique challenges. Racial tension with law enforcement may prevent some families from calling for help when their loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis. This puts undue pressure on the families and caregivers to try to manage the situation themselves. It was also noted that many African-American families may still view mental illness (including depression) not as a medical condition but as a situation that could be overcome by other means. Again, this may delay access to care until the disorder becomes severe and debilitating.

Events that promote information sharing and education on mental illness are helping to address some of the concerns expressed at the forum, but it was clear that more still needs to be done. Current mental health resources are not yet perfect, but thanks to events such as this, new opportunities to address the needs and improve care for our neighbors are possible.