This was a discussion board post for my Multicultural Psychology class. The topic was culture and health, and the chapter focused pretty heavily on health disparities and health care disparities. We're supposed to write at least 600 words and cite at least 5 research sources outside the textbook per discussion, though I usually (as here) will be making at least one of those citations in my responses to other students. (So, uh, professor? If you do a plagiarism check, yes I am the math TA in your class. Congratulations on finding my blog.)
Chapter 8 discussed culture and health. Part of the chapter is on health (care) disparities. Health disparities are the different rates of being healthy or sick (or having specific conditions) between groups, while health care disparities are the differences in treatment and in access to treatment (Mio, Barker, & Tumambing 2012). These two disparities can not be reasonably separated, as receiving poor care (or no care) can lead people to try to deal with health problems on their own and mistrust doctors, which in turn rather definitively leads to not accessing health care. I know that past healthcare experiences have influenced my decisions to (not) seek care for illness or injury. After I had a doctor explain that my injury (which I had already said was a month prior) could not be a broken foot because for a broken foot to appear as it did on the MRI, the injury would need to be about a month old, my trust definitely decreased. It was, in fact, a broken foot. I suspect he couldn't believe a person would be able to walk on a broken foot for a month. Another doctor taking my inability to assign a number to my pain to mean I wasn't in pain decreased my trust further. The only pain scale I've ever found that I could comprehend is based on behavioral cues, and since I'm fairly sure walking on a broken foot isn't supposed to be 2/10 on any pain scale, I can't exactly use that scale at the doctor's office. There are many who believe that autistic people have a reduced sensitivity to pain or don't feel pain as well, which really doesn't help when I'm trying to seek treatment for issues where pain is a symptom. Fitting that particular stereotype only makes getting medical treatment harder (Allely 2013), and I expect the experience is similar for other groups who are often assumed to feel less pain.
Mio et. al. give multiple examples of people of color receiving care later or receiving less treatment than white people in the chapter, both in personal stories and in statistics (2012). Racism has historically played a role in treatment, and knowledge of this racism plays a role in the decision to seek care or not (Bhopal 1998). Similar forces are in play for people living in poverty, who may choose to delay care due to an inability to pay for it or wait until they are in need of the emergency room because the ER (theoretically) can not turn them away entirely. Interestingly, decreased utilization of healthcare by those of lower socioeconomic status holds even when they have health insurance (Fiscella, Franks, Gold, & Clancy 2000).
In terms of the choice to attempt access to health care or not to make the attempt, historical and current racism play a significant role for many people of color. Medical and scientific racism, such as that which was partially involved in eugenics and in experiments like the Tuskegee syphilis study, led to continuing mistrust of the medical system. In addition, research on health care disparities has often framed the problem as lying within cultural choices of the marginalized group, which does little to create trust (Bhopal 1998).
In connection to these issues, I look back at the concept of imposed etics: “imposition of an outsider's worldview on a different culture” (Mio, Barker, & Tumambing 2012, p. 64). There really are differences in (attempted and successful) health care utilization between marginalized groups and privileged groups. However, in assuming this is because marginalized people culturally don't care about their health or don't believe that modern medicine can be effective at what it claims it can do, researchers are imposing their worldview and ideas of what reasons for action make sense on members of other cultures who have other worldviews! I know that as an Autistic person, I absolutely care about my health, including my mental health. I also totally believe the analysis suggesting that autistic people who are referred to interventions earlier and who received applied behavioral analysis are more likely to achieve the “optimal outcome” of losing their diagnosis (Orinstein et. al. 2014). I just don't care. No amount of evidence that an intervention can “help” me achieve a goal I don't have and rather explicitly reject is going to convince me to pursue that intervention, because it isn't evidence that the intervention can help me reach goals I do have. In fact, the imposed etic where outsiders presume my ideal outcome for mental health care is to stop being autistic, or at least act less autistic, contributes to my reluctance to pursue any mental health care. Even therapy meant for issues comparatively unrelated to autism gets sidetracked by this assumption, and also by assumptions about what it means to be mentally healthy that may not apply given that my natural cognitive styles are, by definition, not standard.
Allely, C. S. (2013). Pain sensitivity and observer perception of pain in individuals with autistic spectrum disorder. The Scientific World Journal, 2013(2013), 1-20.
Bhopal, R. (1998). Spectre of racism in health and health care: lessons from history and the United States. British Medical Journal, 316(7149), 1970-1973.
Fiscella, K., Franks, P., Gold, M. R., & Clancy, C. M. (2000). Inequality in quality: addressing socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic disparities in health care. Jama, 283(19), 2579-2584.
Mio, J. S., Barker, L. A., & Tumambing, J. S. (2012). Multicultural psychology: Understanding Our Diverse Communities (3rd ed.) New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Orinstein, A. J., Helt, M., Troyb, E., Tyson, K. E., Barton, M. L., Eigsti, I. M., ... & Fein, D. A. (2014). Intervention for optimal outcome in children and adolescents with a history of autism. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP, 35(4), 247-256.