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Mental Health Needs and Cultural Barriers that Lead to Misdiagnosis of Southeast Asian Refugees: A Review

TitleMental Health Needs and Cultural Barriers that Lead to Misdiagnosis of Southeast Asian Refugees: A Review
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsSonethavilay, H, Miyabayashi, I, Komori, A, Onimaru, M, Washio, M
JournalInternational Medical JournalInternational Medical Journal
ISBN Number1341-2051
KeywordsAsia, Asians, Culture, Diagnostic Errors, Health Services Accessibility, Health Services Needs and Demand, Immigrants, Mental Health, Refugees, Social Work, United States
AbstractIntroduction: Approximately two million Southeast Asians refugee (primarily refer to Cambodian, Vietnamese, Hmong, and Laotians in this paper) have resettled in the United States. They were stated to have the largest refugee population and continuing to increase. With this trend and the unique circumstances that bring this population to the United States, there are increasing mental health needs for Southeast Asian refugees, which are not being met or properly addressed. Purpose: The purpose of this paper was to review the literature relative to two main concepts: (I) the mental health needs frequently identified in the Southeast Asian refugee population, and (2) highlight the cultural barriers that can often lead to mental health misdiagnosis of Southeast Asian refugees. Methods: The literature review relative to two concepts. Result and Discussion: (1) Refugees are unfortunately frequently subject to this misdiagnosis. Because many refugees are from countries mental health practitioners are unfamiliar with, many practitioners initially enter the relationship with the client wary of attempting to assess their psychiatric condition. Among Southeast Asian refugees, somatic complaints are the most frequently presented problem. Yet, according to the research, "somatic presenting complaints only occasionally suggest somatic disorder among refugees, as this diagnosis and hypochondriac are not frequent among refugees" (2) One of most affective barrier was communication. Sometimes arrangements for interpreters are also done on a causal basis where a family member or individual from the refugee community who has little or no training in mental health concepts or terminology is utilized. This can create an inaccuracy in describing symptoms and severity, which can lead to misdiagnosis. Conclusion: Self-assessing client's cultural competency is important, in order to appropriately assess, diagnose, and appreciate the client's uniqueness and individual experiences/needs. Merely taking what is said at face value and diagnosing a client does not adhere to competent social work practice.
Ethno Med: