Mental Health and Culture: Supporting the Whole Child and their Family


Back-to-school season is one of my favorite times of year; school supply lists, new teachers, new classes, locker combinations, band, dance, violin and football games. Recently, I attended my son’s Open House. He’s an 11th grader and is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. After his English and Language Arts Teacher shared the extensive reading list and her expectations for the year, I was pleased to hear her speak about the importance of not putting too much pressure on our children to be perfect or “overachievers.” She emphasized the importance of “checking in” on our children’s stress levels and creating safe spaces for our children to share with us about issues that may be causing frustration and sadness.

Mental wellbeing is fundamental to good health and is the foundation for children’s optimal social and emotional development. Children’s mental health is like a table. A “level” table can be used and is functional to do many things such as; using a laptop, eating a meal or completing a homework assignment. Some children’s brains are “leveled” because they’ve received unconditional love from family and have a strong sense of cultural identity and high self-esteem. Children that build healthy relationships with caregivers and teachers, live in safe and secure surroundings and that have access to appropriate guidance and discipline have an increased likelihood of better mental health outcomes. Because of these supports, youth are better equipped to achieve their dreams and goals. Children develop on “unleveled” tables when they are exposed to neglect, abuse, violence, unsupportive relationships, discrimination, racism, or a lack of access to leisure activities and health resources. These children need collective community resources, services and supports to thrive.

The Jacksonville System of Care is a 6-year federally funded grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The System of Care grant team and community stakeholders work collaboratively to increase access to mental health services for children, youth and their families through systems transformation with an emphasis on wraparound care coordination for youth and families facing serious mental health challenges. Using a public health approach, the grant has areas of focus on youth in the juvenile justice system, foster care system, homeless system and subsidized early learning.

Culture influences perceptions of mental illness, how youth and families describe mental illness symptoms and the meaning assigned to mental illness. These factors influence how supportive families are, what type of treatment is sought, where help is sought and ultimately pathways to services. In addition, it is critical that we don't stereotype or make general assumptions about cultural groups because each person is first and foremost an individual within a larger context.

Rather, we need the ingenuity and talents of diverse voices to address the mental health needs of all children, youth and families in our community. Cultural and linguistic competency is a necessary approach to address mental health disparities and disproportionalities.

Are you a passionate advocate for child mental health and wellbeing? Do you want to help reduce stereotyping and take this information back to your organization and community? If so, please join the Jacksonville System of Care for upcoming Cultural and Linguistic Competency Trainings:

Module 2: Exploring the “Isms” and Various Cultural Groups, Wednesday, October 21,  2015, 1 pm – 4:30 pm, JCC

Module 3: Effective Cross-Cultural Communication, Thursday, November 12, 2015, 1 pm – 4:30 pm

 Module 4: Organizational Cultural and Linguistic Competency, Thursday, December  3, 2015, 1 pm – 4:30 pm,   JCC

Register at

For more information, contact Selena Webster-Bass, MPH by calling (904) 630-4251.


Selena Webster-Bass, Cultural & Linguistic Competency Educator of Jacksonville System of Care Initiative




of public schools in Duval County earned an "A," "B," or "C" in 2021-2022.