• June 18th, 2024
  • Tuesday, 03:16:45 AM

Using Decolonization Methods to Heal

The issue of mental health is finally being acknowledged and will soon be addressed in Colorado’s schools as children return to school and families are left with angst, doubt, and concern about what to expect from educational systems faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Certainly, the pandemic has had detrimental effects on the customary socialization and interaction patterns of our youth—causing social anxiety and stress. There is also unresolved grief that families are suffering from due to the millions of lives lost—and in many cases, burials without proper cultural rites and rituals. This is compounded by young maturing adults struggling with general issues of psychosocial maturation that manifest themselves in the classroom, family issues, and at times, dysfunctionality.


As in many communities, the concept of stigma continues to haunt (POC) communities.  It is not unusual for families to shy away from mental health treatment, particularly from mainstream mental health institutions.  In 2013 this journalist and other colleagues were commissioned by the Mental Health America of Colorado (MHAC) to conduct a series of focus groups with the four major ethnic groups in Denver: Latino; Native Americans; African Americans and Asian Americans to determine to what extent stigma in mental health still exists.  Our findings concluded that it continues to be prevalent in our communities.


Stigma is seen as a stain or reproach, for example, on one’s reputation.  It is also characterized by a mark or obvious trait that is characteristic of defect or disease (Random House Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 1991). As presented in the context of the ethnic minority communities such “stain” implies that entering a mental health system means that an individual seeking help blemishes one’s essence, which has spillover effects on the family, close groups, and community in a negative way.  In my experience in the field for 17 years, I am cognizant that nobody wants to labelled as crazy.


Social scientists define mental health stigma in two distinct categories. The first category referred to as social stigma is defined as a person with a prejudicial attitude towards someone afflicted with or labeled with mental illness. Generally, this phenomenon is coupled with overt discrimination aimed at individuals with mental health problems as many are generally labeled with psychiatric diagnostics—labels that pop up at inopportune times, depriving someone of their rights. Other research findings indicate that racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher levels of mental health stigma resulting in bias, distrust, stereotyping; thus, leading to fear, embarrassment, anger, shame, and avoidance. Stigma may lead to individuals delaying or aborting treatment prematurely, which increase morbidity and mortality (Li, 2013).


Perceived stigma or self-stigma is characterized by someone falling into a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to an internalization process where a perception of discrimination is present (Link, Cullen, Struening & Shrout, 1989). This often leads to feelings of shame that contributes to a lack of effective treatment outcomes.  Associated with stigma are social stereotypes or selective perceptions that place people in categories, exaggerating differences between groups and lumping them into an “us versus them” in order to obscure differences between groups” (Townsend, 1979). We are also aware that mental health diagnostics criminalizes many mentally ill people.


Responding to the mental health needs of the community also implies that counseling, psychotherapy, intervention and healing are on the forefront. There are several associated issues that also need to be addressed if we are going to correctly address mental health concerns in People of Color (POC) communities. What may present itself as a major challenge to mainstream healers is understanding the role that cultural differences play in serving (POC) communities in the mental health field. One has to ask if school systems are equipped to deal with cultural differences in mental health well-being as they intrude into the lives of Black and Brown children. Historically, the one-size-fits-all approach sometimes referred to as the medical model, that is, that all human beings require and respond the same to mental health treatment approaches.


Latinos and Chicanos not only have to deal with the stigmatization process —there are additional issues that require immediate attention, especially as Colorado school districts begin the arduous process of developing curriculum that meets the provisions of HB19 1192 regarding the teaching of cultures and historical contributions of the four major groups in American society—Latinas/os; Native Americans; African Americans, and Asian Americans. It is conceivable that new issues may present in the classroom as students are introduced to other perspectives in history and the social sciences. Parents have already reacted in Denver Public Schools, presenting themselves at the board of education in opposition to teaching Critical Race Theory.  Decolonizing the curriculum may breed contempt, anger, hostility and other emotions that have been repressed in the collective conscious of a society that has built a mask of white supremacy to hides its inadequacies.


Immigrants and Chicanas/os require specialized and culturally competent mental health approaches—suggesting that old school mental health practitioners trained in the Western psychiatric model need to also equip themselves for the onslaught of mental health needs that require specialized training.


Our medicine includes historical resistance to oppression, which has always been a part of the Indio/Mexicano cultures, as nuestros antepasados resisted forced acculturation at the hand of Europeans who destroyed cultures, languages and people.


Issues such as cultural conflict, intergenerational and historical trauma, systemic and internalized racism, and what at one time was coined migration psychosis for newly arrived immigrants may be uncovered.  C. N. Arbona etl.al. (2010), presents research indicating that, “Latino immigrants develop mental disorders related to the migration experience, such as trauma history, low education levels, low socio-economic status, limited English proficiency, limited access and/or trust in the health care system, stress associated with acculturation, as well as separation from their nuclear families.”


Flores, Yvette, G. in Chicana and Chicano Mental Health: Alma, Mente y Corazon, (2013) shares, “that mainstream analysts do not include or minimize the historical, cultural and social context of psychological, emotional characteristics; therefore, also marginalizing explanatory models,” that provide deeper insight into the psychology of the individual and the group.  Some of the areas excluded in the process are historical and intergenerational trauma.  When these are often left out or unattended, the assessment results may be incomplete or leave gaping holes.


Community leaders, practitioners and policy reform advocates who speak truth to critical historical and contemporary issues are keenly aware that past psychological and emotional interventions require an understanding of decolonization healing that have historically been omitted by the general psychiatric community. Community advocates are committed to utilizing the strengths and resiliency factors that exist within people of color communities that are known to heal the collective wounded spirit and promote social justice. Mental health progressive therapists are forming bonds between mental health and social justice (E. Aldarondo, 2007).


Chicanos/Latinos have their own medicine for healing purposes, but it doesn’t always comport with the modern psychiatric approaches used in sterile institutional settings. Our medicine includes historical resistance to oppression, which has always been a part of the Indio/Mexicano cultures, as nuestros antepasados resisted forced acculturation at the hand of Europeans who destroyed cultures, languages and people. For five hundred years, following two disastrous colonization processes, Raza has developed La Cultura de Resistencia. It consists of exercising our collective free will. It is reaching autonomy by using our own medicine such our testimonios, expressed through spoken word, music, and poetry in sharing oppression with the community and the world. We cannot allow anyone to choose our methods of healing that include resistance. Activism is a healing substance that can assist in the healing process for many of the emotional and psychological traumas that have invaded our communities. Granted, it is not the wherewithal, but to exclude its importance falling prey to the same old tune.


In the last quarter of a century Indigenous healers have introduced methods of healing that are based “in universal principles that promote a way to think about how to live in the world and with one another in a way that extends beyond the scope of Western European thought processes” (Grayshield, 2020).  Decolonization healing includes dismantling the racism that has been built into many of the structures of American society. It is learning how to love ourselves, nuestra cultura, and acting upon our world. Liberation psychology (Martin-Baro (1987) believes that oppressed people have to become “agents of their own history.” It is time to create our own agency.


Who is crazy? Maybe I am for thinking the way I do. However, I am also fully aware that there is no diagnostic label for institutional deviancy. When do systems become accountable?


Ramón Del Castillo, PhD

Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 8-21-2021 Ramón Del Castillo.


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