I went to a mental health summit today which was hosted by a faith-based mental health counseling organization. I was excited to go because it was aimed at the mental health needs of the Hispanic (Latino) population in Pennsylvania. Indeed, there were plenty of people there of Hispanic descent, and some of the presenters repeated their comments in Spanish. But then it got uncomfortable.
Those of you who know me know that I am perfectly comfortable in any religious setting. I’ve been going to church since I was a little kid. Both sides of my family have the full range of religious people in them, from the non-practicing Catholics to the fervent Evangelicals. I myself subscribe to a religious belief. (Spare me the “But you’re a scientist!” deal. It gets old.) But I just didn’t feel comfortable injecting so much religion into mental health, something that definitely needs to be addressed through science and medicine.
The explanation for involving so many faith-based initiatives was simple, and yet another source of concern for me. The organizers claimed that Latinos in the United States are “very religious people.” I would tend to agree with that statement based on my observations of the culture, but that doesn’t justify the approach to the disease. It does, however, justify person-to-person interactions. A person with a mental health problem who is very religious would likely respond better to someone who holds the same views. Likewise, it would stand to reason that someone who is not religious at all would not feel confortable going to someone who just wants to pray and lay hands. (I’m exaggerating a bit, of course.)
Brothers and sisters, I shall cure your depression through the cunning handling of snakes.
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The other reason I got uncomfortable is because of what I know about religions and their approach to healthcare. In essence, they have a knack for getting in the way of scientific and medical advances that are proven to work. Even non-mainstream religions can get in the way. Look at scientology and their approach to psychology. (It’s a little bit nuts.)
So, on the one hand, I was glad to see that mental health is more of an issue in the Latino community, whereas it used to be absolutely taboo to suggest that someone had a mental health issue of any kind. On the other hand, I wish the approach was a little more secular. Check that. I wish that it were totally secular, but with the given respect to the clients’/patients’ beliefs. Then again, that’s just me. Even the most devoutly religious members of my families recognized that a truth cannot deny a truth… That science and medicine that works, works.
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