NYS Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence at NYSPI
Dear Colleagues and Friends:

The New York State Center of Excellence for Cultural Competence at the New York State Psychiatric Institute is pleased to announce that Dr. Leopoldo J. Cabassa, our Assistant Director, has been awarded a Mentored Research Scientist Development Award (K01) from the National Institutes of Mental Health. The project titled “Implementing Health Care Interventions for Hispanics with Serious Mental Illness (K01 MH09118)” is a five year grant that will prepare Dr. Cabassa to become an independent investigator in implementation research to address the disparities in physical health care faced by racial and ethnic minorities with serious mental illness. A mentoring team led by Drs. Roberto Lewis-Fernández and Benjamin Druss, will guide Dr. Cabassa’s training. The research plan for this project uses a collaborative intervention planning framework that blends principles of community based participatory research and intervention mapping to modify and assess the feasibility and acceptability of an existing care manager intervention for outpatient mental health clinics. For more information about this project, please email Dr. Cabassa at cabassa@pi.cpmc.columbia.edu

We look forward to engage in this collaborative project and contribute to improving the integration of health and mental health services in public mental health system for minorities with serious mental illness.

Education & Training


One factor often overlooked by both family members and mental health professionals alike is the role culture plays in the family experience of mental illness.

When we talk about culture, what we mean is a set of beliefs, behaviors, norms, values, and language shared by people grouped together because of common ties based upon race, ethnicity, faith, gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. Because culture impacts the way people interact with one another, it is important to recognize that a person's culture shapes the way they perceive and experience mental illness. A family's culture could influence whether and when they seek help, what type of help they seek, what coping styles and supports they have, and what treatments might work. Mental health professionals are not only affected by their personal culture, but also by the culture of the medical field, which relies heavily on science and open communication for diagnosis.

When the provider's cultural background differs from that of the patient and/or family (especially if there is a language barrier), the lack of knowledge about the patient/family's culture can create impediments to effective treatment, including misunderstandings that can result in a wrong diagnosis. Although most providers want to work sensitively and effectively within various cultural contexts, it may be easier to find written information in non-English languages, than to find professionals skilled at delivering treatment that is sensitive, relevant and culturally competent.

In addition, after a patient has been discharged, some families have difficulty finding support groups with which they are comfortable. These are some problems family members have reported experiencing when trying to integrate themselves into mainstream support groups:

  • Lack of aggressive and innovative outreach to families outside of mainstream culture.
  • Structure and leadership styles may not reflect different cultures' preferred styles.
  • Support group leadership and membership may lack comfort with issues of diversity or may simply lack knowledge or information.
  • Social activities sponsored by groups may not be familiar, appealing or comfortable.
  • Programs may be held in settings outside of neighborhood communities or in places where people feel uncomfortable.
  • Lack of people from cultural group may cause families to feel alienated, isolated or uncomfortable.

In order to receive appropriate treatment and find a support model for your loved one and family member that is consistent with your cultural style and strengths, be prepared to reach out, bridge knowledge gaps, make connections and educate others about your culture.

Cultural differences to consider:

  • Communication and presentation styles
  • Verbal expression: open, self-disclosing, or closed?
  • Eye contact
  • Distance in personal space
  • Problem-solving and decision-making
  • Familial or gender role expectations and responsibilities
  • Religious or spiritual beliefs and practices

What works?

A. Find a mainstream program that already exists.
B. Consider a "family network" approach. As opposed to building a group of unrelated individuals, this approach builds upon a large family network that shares kinship ties or membership in key community institutions, such as a church or well-regarded neighborhood community center. Family network approaches can make use of collective problem-solving and conflict resolution, which is common in many cultures.
C. Join or create an ethnically or culturally specific psycho-educational group where all members are from the same cultural group.

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1-800-950-3228 - NY Only

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