Hmong Face Cultural Hurdles to Mental Health Care

| September 10, 2001

Hmong Face Cultural Hurdles to Mental Health Care, Kaomi Goetz, Minnesota Public Radio
The state of Minnesota is home to approximately 42,000 Hmong immigrants and their offspring. The journey they've made from a peaceful tribal existence-- through a devastating war and into a life in a strange new land--has not been an easy one. Imagine stepping from the real world into a science fiction movie and trying to cope with the massive changes instantaneously. As Kaomi Goetz reports for Minnesota Public Radio, this cultural gap is particularly vast in terms of medical treatment, especially in the area of mental health. There is no word in the Hmong language for 'mental illness,' and their prescribed treatment for what they believe to be possession by evil spirits would be called 'primitive' by most Western doctors. Hmong traditional medicine often calls for a shaman to be summoned to cast out or appease a patient's inner demons. While their religious beliefs must be respected, many health care officials decry the risk in not assessing the presence of mental illness as a disease. This misunderstanding proved deadly recently, when a paranoid Schizophrenic Hmong woman stabbed to death her two children.
--Al Paulson
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