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Breaking down cultural barriers in mental health care

from the March 21, 2011 issue of Connect

Breaking down cultural barriers in mental health care

Dr. Carolina VidalDr. Carolina Vidal, psychiatrist and leader of diversity in mental health at Women’s College Hospital, understands the importance of respecto – respect in Spanish – when treating her patients. That’s because Dr. Vidal is the first psychiatrist at Women’s College Hospital to focus specifically on Latin American immigrants.

Having fled El Salvador as a refugee, Dr. Vidal knows first-hand the struggles associated with immigrating to another country. It was her experience with immigrating to Canada that led to her ambition to become a psychiatrist.

“In psychiatry, the most important thing is the relationship between patient and doctor,” says Dr. Vidal. “Cultural values need to be set as the centre of that relationship.”

Women's College Hospital is committed to equity and treating a diverse community of women. Dr. Vidal maintains this vision by appreciating and understanding cultural values when treating her Latin American patients. Common values, such as respect and family, are key considerations in the type of care she provides. It is not uncommon for Dr. Vidal’s patients to greet her with a warm embrace, or bring their family to an appointment for added support and advice. Patients usually express themselves through common Spanish phrases, making it easier to discuss their experiences and emotions.

Dr. Vidal was the principle investigator on a three year study, funded by Canada Immigration and Citizenship, to create a manual for therapists to conduct culturally-adapted therapy for people of Latin American origin.

For Latin American people immigrating to Canada – many fleeing their countries as refugees – it can be difficult adapting to a new country. Around 80 per cent of Latin American immigrants who come to Canada are at a high risk for mental health problems, the most common being depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Immigrants are prone to depression due to pre-migration stress and after arriving in Canada due to acculturative stress, which can arise from language barriers, family separation, multiple losses, economic stress, under-employment, unemployment and poverty.

Dr. Vidal may have arrived at Women’s College only four short months ago, but she has big plans for the future of the mental health program, including importing specific therapies from Cuba. With support from the Women’s College Hospital Foundation, Dr. Vidal will produce a documentary for the public about innovative rehabilitation treatment use in Cuba for the treatment of people with mental conditions, specifically the use of Cuban music therapy.

“Women’s College Hospital celebrates diversity through its many specialized programs that continue to meet the needs of the people in our community,” adds Dr. Vidal. “That is the beauty of this hospital.”



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