Taking a cultural approach to improve mental health


August 29, 1993|By Patrick A. McGuire

The days of segregation may be past, says Jan Desper Maybin, the newly appointed executive director of the Black Mental Health Alliance, but race still plays a largely misunderstood role in the mental health of members of African-American and other ethnic groups.

Under Ms. Maybin's direction, the 9-year-old alliance, funded through a grant from the Baltimore Mental Health Systems, is about to begin a program aimed at helping African Americans reluctant to seek professional help for emotional problems or who get care that inadequately addresses their cultural identity.

"Other mental health agencies have a very difficult time trying to address issues of African-American mental illness," she says. "It's because they don't attack the problem from a cultural perspective."

African Americans, she notes, deal with a variety of cultural issues daily which need to be understood and addressed by therapists.

"For instance, a lot of black women express themselves with their hands and head and a lot of body movement," says Ms. Maybin. "If you don't understand that, you can think it's an aggressive tactic."

Ms. Maybin, who served as a program manager with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Injury Prevention Program, plans a series of workshops in the fall on a variety of mental health issues. The alliance also has a list of black therapists for referral.

"Now we want to identity people who need help, identify what help is available and link the two." (For information call [410] 523-6670.)

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