Feb 27, 2018

Hmong: Minorities, Cultural Barriers and the Challenges of Mental Health Issues

Photo courtesy of WikimediaCommons

In the context of culturally and linguistically isolated communities, the promotion of mental health becomes a particularly difficult issue to address. The obstacle that language barriers represent for communities such as first-generation Hmong-Americans, often leading to misdiagnosis, makes raising awareness a crucial but arduous task and place inter-cultural cooperation at a local level as a decisive element.

The article below was published by weau.com

Mental health can be a difficult issue to tackle but officials at the Eau Claire Area Hmong Mutual Assistance Association say addressing mental health in the Hmong community is an added challenge.

Sarah Driever says mental illness is hard to explain, especially when English is not someone's first language. Issues like anxiety and depression can also be difficult for interpreters to translate.

Officials at the local health department say this is a common issue. "English doesn't directly translate into Hmong so how do we explain what anxiety looks like. When we say, 'i'm having an anxiety attack', that doesn't translate directly so we have to describe what does an anxiety attack look like," says Chelsie Smith, Public Health Nurse with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department.

Driever says this often causes mental illness to be either misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. UW-Stout is also focused on this issue. Mental health awareness is the theme of this year's Hmong Education Conference.

Joshua Yang, President of the Hmong Stout Student Organization says its important to teach the older Hmong generations more about mental illness. A Stout professor teaching Hmong studies agrees.

"In the Hmong community specifically there are a wide range of attitudes and opinions about western medicine and about medical practices within the community and for that it makes the situation more complex," says Professor Mitchell Ogden.

The health department says they will continue working to combat this issue, collaborating with the Hmong Mutual Assistance organization. Smith says the department has been putting together a glossary to assist with better translating health issues in the Hmong community.

UW-Stout will be providing more information and resources on this at the 32nd annual Hmong Education Conference. The event will be held March 3rd at Stout's Memorial Student Center from 10am to 5pm. The public is welcome to attend