Home | News | Links between mental health, culture new focus at school

Links between mental health, culture new focus at school

Undergraduate students in healthcare need a broader understanding of mental health and how it relates to modern cultural issues,  the Flinders University School of Nursing and Midwifery has decided.

To highlight the connections between mental health and cultural issues, the school has launched a series of teaching materials. These freely available online resources specifically focus on problems facing people from Indigenous, migrant and Chinese cultural groups.

“Traditionally, mental health is taught separately from culture, professor Eimear Muir-Cochrane, chair of mental health nursing at Flinders, said. "The two are taught, but not intertwined together.” Muir-Cochrane was the leader of the two-year project that developed these teaching materials.

“An individual is made up of very complex parts to do with their physical, their mental health and their own cultural background," she said. "We wanted to develop authentic, real life cases, where students could experience as real-life a scenario as possible to prepare them for practice.”

Muir-Cochrane mentioned the many harmful myths about mental health, as well as about certain cultures. Although healthcare professionals are generally expected to treat their patients with sensitivity and an objective attitude, even they are not immune to the clichés.

“We believe stereotyping and stigma comes from ignorance, lack of awareness and fear of the other," she said. "We are often anxious about things we don't know much about. This way, we gently and sensitively engage students with materials, so they can explore their own cultural sensitivities and explore their own anxieties and lack of knowledge and information about people from different cultures and people with mental health problems.”

The teaching resources are all online, but they aim at a practical approach, with case studies from real life that the students can explore.

“The students can play an audio or video cast and meet the person with mental health problems of a different cultural background," Muir-Cochrane explained. "They can look at case notes. They can listen to their family members, and also watch videos where health professionals talk about the issues facing the individual, and therefore explore care and treatment options.”

The ultimate goal of the training program is to provide future healthcare professionals tools for the 21st century.

“Our students will be very well prepared as critical thinkers to engage and interact with their patients and consumers for whom they're caring, be able to conduct good mental state assessments, and be able to have an awareness and sensitivity around a person’s cultural needs,” Muir-Cochrane said.

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