Mental Health

Being the first generation... to go to therapy


Talking about mental health with your family can be difficult, especially if there are additional cultural or racial pressures working against normalizing that conversation. We talked to a few Sheppard Pratt experts about their personal experiences navigating those pressures and how they would advise others to approach them. 

Shifting the stigma with education and safe spaces

For many minorities, mental health has historically been disregarded due to the impact of the stigma that follows. Being a trusted friend or relative with a listening ear goes a long way. We must provide a safe space for folks to feel comfortable expressing themselves in ways they may never have had the privilege to. Our approach should be to remind them that they’re not alone, help is available, and their mental health significantly contributes to overall wellness. 

- Kirk Baltimore, LMSW, psychotherapist at the Outpatient Mental Health Center in Timonium

This conversation is often a challenge in the Black community; it has been said that mental illness is either "the devil" or "weakness. But in recent years mental health is starting to be viewed differently in the Black community, and it's because of education. Education is the best way to start this conversation in most households regardless of culture.

- Tenequa Bryson, CPRP, division director of Baltimore City rehab and recovery programs 

I grew up in Nigeria where any conversation about mental health is almost seen as a taboo or forbidden. My experience in the US has also been similar. I’ve learned firsthand the key to breaching this is being informed. The most important lesson I can pass on today is the importance of breaking that generational thought process and seeking professional help when you need it. 

- Dr. Adefolake Akinsanya, service chief of the Adolescent Female Unit

Manage your expectations and remember it’s okay not to win them over

Once you’ve gained an understanding of your own mental health, or that of your child, you can work towards helping your family members get on the same page.” But remember it’s okay if you don’t win them over. Be true to yourself and continue on your path seeking professional help. That is the best gift you can give yourself and your family. The road to mental health recovery is long. Be patient and persevere. We care for you and are here to help.

- Dr. Adefolake Akinsanya, service chief of the Adolescent Female Unit

Manage your expectations about the outcome of speaking with your family on these topics. They may not be in a position to understand or prioritize mental health. It doesn’t mean they love you any less or don’t want what’s best for you. It may be that they’ve spent their whole life in survival mode or are skeptical of Western medicine or ideals. They may never have had the opportunity to focus on themselves deeply enough to conceptualize your experience.

- Poonam McKnight, LCPC, clinical counselor

Traditional values can cause conflict within families growing up in different times and/or places. These conflicts can induce challenges of cultural adjustment for both the first generation and their immigrant parents, as the forces of identity formation and parenting stress collide. Some families lack an understanding about mental illness and its debilitating outcomes. An individual who is clinically depressed, exhibiting symptoms like sadness and lack of motivation, may be dismissed as lazy. A family member may advise the sufferer to just ‘think differently, smile, and be happy.’ It is important to appreciate that most immigrant parents have innumerable challenges related to language, assimilation, and traumatic pasts. They have not had the luxury to prioritize their feelings.

- Dr. Devi Bhuyan, director of clinical psychology

Every culture—and every family—is different, and providers should remember that too 

It can be daunting to address the mental health needs of such a wide diversity of patients given their unique backgrounds, but being informed as well as open to individual differences is key. While the literature indicates that Asian cultures typically tend to be more collectivistic, such  generalizations are incomplete representations. Certain observations may be helpful; but in our interactions with patients and families from different communities, individual differences and specific cultural influences that characterize each person should not be overlooked. Understanding cultural variation can help providers offer culturally informed  services while also accommodating individual differences within families. And that is imperative to providing effective care.

- Dr. Devi Bhuyan, director of clinical psychology

For help finding mental health resources, call our Care Navigators at 410-938-5000, available Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.